The Iconoclasts

It’s fun to be an iconoclast and it requires little training. You don’t need to understand what you’re smashing. You don’t need to be better than what you condemn. You don’t need to offer anything in exchange for what you destroy. If you seem angry enough, people will assume you have something to be angry about. They will assume that what you hate is evil.

It’s harder to take the other position. We’ve never met Lincoln, Grant, Washington, or the rest. There is a layer of dust on our memory of their lives. We didn’t build their statues or experience the problems they helped solve. We know they were real people, flawed as we are flawed, who nonetheless accomplished important things, but our loyalty to them is a dim, cobwebby, inherited thing.

And this is the battle of the moment. Our hazy memories against kids with ropes and spray paint. Our faded gratitude against their frantic rage. Our half-hearted defense of half-forgotten people against a frenzy of self-righteous indignation.

There are arguments to be made against every man, and history would have us make them, and then evaluate those arguments in the full light of day. But the iconoclast does not want light. His hour is darkness, hidden within an anonymous mob that honors no law and tolerates no debate.

He weaponizes history, ignoring his subjects’ culture and denying their suffering, reducing them to comic-book villains, representative of their villainous eras. He rejects his subjects’ limitations and humanity – makes them gods in order to make them devils. He makes them devils in order to discredit their gods.

But, of course, these famous men were not gods. They were humans born into a culture, just as we were born into a culture – humans who suffered and struggled and stood apart from their culture, often leaving it changed for the better. They were brave men, now being mocked by masked men. They were humble and dedicated men, now being judged by self-righteous and cowardly men. They were imperfect men, now being slandered by abysmal men.

It is our forgetting that makes us ripe for this revolution. We have forgotten the price that many paid for this freedom we were born into – our globally and historically unprecedented American privilege. We have forgotten the Creator who inspired our ancestors’ revolution and their painful journey toward equality. We have forgotten our own generation’s brutality to the aborted, even as we criticize their generation’s slow liberation of the enslaved.

It’s fun to be an iconoclast, until you have finally torn down everything you don’t understand. Then, at least, you may begin to understand.

Dominic Roo and the Missing Shipwreck (chapter one)

The pilot’s breakfast club had convened at the appointed time and the small airport lounge rang with shouts and laughter when — suddenly — there was a hush…

Chapter One


The pilots’ breakfast club had convened at the appointed time and the small airport lounge rang with shouts and laughter when — suddenly — there was a hush,  a turning of heads, a shuffling of feet.  Dominic Roo cast an appreciative glance through the wide office window but possessed the decorum to remain seated, unlike others who stood and stared.

“That is one fine-looking dame”, Norm volunteered, to numerous grunts of reverent agreement.

The creature thus admired was stepping into an airplane, her silky legs executing a graceful arc that earned every possible style point from the judges, who groaned when the airplane’s closing door brought an abrupt end to the exhibition.  “Fred has all the luck”, someone muttered as the group turned away and resumed their noisy storytelling.

Whether sharing this view or for some other reason, Dom continued to monitor the scene as the pilot walked to the other side of the airplane and got in.  A moment later, Dom’s dark eyebrows flickered and it was soon apparent that Fred’s luck, though abundant, was not all good.

The right door of the airplane burst open and its passenger reversed her noteworthy ingress, though with greater haste and less elegance, nearly spraining an ankle as the heel of her remarkable shoe twisted on contact with the pavement.  Gaining her balance, she strode rapidly across the ramp toward the lobby, her hand on her face, Fred clamoring pathetically behind.

This second act of the drama was missed by most of the pilots, but at the swelling click of approaching heels, faces turned quickly toward the glass door and then — with the sure instinct of compassion for their fellow man — turned quickly away in a sincere, if unconvincing, effort to appear unaware of Fred’s plight.

The door whooshed open, admitting the urgent sounds of feminine sniffles, the machine-gun tat of stiletto heels, and a plaintive masculine voice entreating Judy to please wait.  This request was forcefully denied by the slamming of the Ladies’ Room door, a fascinating development privately noted (though publicly ignored) by every man in the suddenly silent room.

Bill, chosen by fate to be standing in just the wrong spot, could not, by any stretch of polite fiction, pretend not to notice the troubled fellow panting at his elbow.  In Bill, however, fate had chosen poorly.  “Uh, hey, Fred!  Going flying today?” was Bill’s inelegant breaking of the ice.

Fred ignored Bill’s gregarious presence and rapped loudly on the bathroom door, signaling a new phase in the crisis.  Pilots began to flee the lobby, ducking into the suddenly cooler environment of a muggy summer morning.

Dom glanced at his friend, John, raised inquiring eyebrows, and John gave a subtle nod toward the door.

“What have we here?” Dom said quietly as they moved outside.

“Lovers’ quarrel, I guess,” John replied.  “Fred’s a good guy.  They’ll work it out.”

“Do you know her?”

“You don’t?  That’s Judy Cain, widow of the guy who crashed into Lake Michigan a couple of years ago.”

“Ah.  I’ve heard the story.  Did they recover the airplane?”

“Nope.  Deep part of the lake, I guess.  Maybe she’s not ready to fly again.  Can’t say as I’d blame her.”

“Hmmm.”  John followed Dom’s glance into the lobby, saw Judy through the window, gesturing emphatically and turning toward the door.  Dom pointed toward a picnic table.  “Let’s sit down for a minute.”

John gave Dom a questioning look but complied.  A moment later, Judy burst from the lobby and, pursued by Fred, clicked briskly toward the parking lot.  Fred raced forward and reached the car first, opened the door for her, then trotted back to the airplane, extracting a suitcase from the back seat.  This he carried to the car and threw into the trunk.  The trunk lid rebounded against his first attempt to close it, and he slammed it down again with some violence.

“Fred’s not happy,” John volunteered.

“Indeed, not.”

“Why so interested?  Something about the way she looks?” John asked, disapproving.

“No.  Something about the way she sees.”

John tilted his head, perplexed.  “What do you mean?”

“I’ll tell you later.”

As Fred started the car and pulled away, Dom rose from the bench and walked toward Fred’s airplane.  “Nice paint job,” he said.  “Looks recent.”

“Yeah, Fred rebuilt the thing over a few years.  Finished it about a year ago, I guess.”

Dom walked around the airplane, admiring the finish, put his hand against the window, stared inside.

“Well, I have a lawn to mow,” John said, sounding impatient.  “Thanks for the airplane ride.”

“Sure thing, John,” Dom said, turning to shake his hand.  “It’s time for me to get to work, too.”

John smirked and said, “Now, that I’d love to see.”

“You underestimate me!” Dom said and started across the ramp to his own airplane, a gleaming Cessna 310.  In a minute, he had the left engine running, and then the right, and soon the airplane raced down the runway, rocketed into a steep climb and banked away.  Looking up to watch before he ducked into his car, John mumbled to himself, “What’s on your mind, Dom?  I’ve seen that look before.”

(Chapter Two)

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Hate Your Allies

An ancient religious leader said, “Love Your Enemies”.  Over the years, many Americans have questioned that leader and even more have questioned that strategy, but – until recently – almost none of us believed that war is better than love.

Fast forward to 2018, where war is suddenly respectable, even among followers of his religion.  Where increasingly violent attacks on people and property are excused as “protest”.  Where the presumption of innocence is trampled in our stampede to condemn.  Where respectful disagreement seems a distant memory.  What has happened to us?

Here’s a clue.  The latest battle – one of the most savage in American history – occurred between two parties that go back many years; even longer than there has been an America.  The parties are Man and Woman.

The differences between these parties are – I almost said undeniable, but even physiology is deniable in our day.  We deny much that our parents believed, deny even the ability to know male from female, let alone masculine from feminine.  And the more we deny, the more angry we become.

And that’s the clue: Our anger and confusion about even these, perhaps the most obvious facts of our existence.  Woman is precious.  Man is precious.  If we cannot agree on this, there is nothing left for us to deny.  We have hit bottom, and all is lost.

The clue – our anger and confusion about obvious things – means this war is moving our nation backwards.  The warriors are not fighting for truth, but fighting to fight.  The war is not waged to protect the innocent, but to give hatred something to do.

If we want to stop this war, we have to stop denying what is good and pure and obvious.  We have to stop following and being bullied by people who tear down the beautiful things our parents and grandparents revered.  We might even stop to remember that Jesus was right: It is love and not anger that rejoices in the truth and leads us back to peace.

A Rock That Made No Ripple

One senator called this week’s proceedings against Brett Kavanaugh a “sham”. To me, it seemed more like a skit – a half-hearted effort to dramatize foregone conclusions. A man stands accused of a heinous and violent crime that – if the accusation is true – should end his career and destroy his reputation. His life is at stake, but he is only a prop on this stage, a man being reduced to a caricature.

The charge against him was odd from the start, launched at the perfect moment, ugly enough to command our attention, probably impossible to disprove. And odd in other ways.

A dramatic life event is like a rock thrown into the water. It produces ripples that spread far and remain long after the initial splash. From such a crisis as Dr. Ford describes, one expects ripples. Screams or torn clothing, bruises, concerned questions from friends or parents, diary entries, gossip, scandal, social realignments… something. But we hear of no ripples. Those called upon by the accuser to confirm her account know nothing of the event. The alleged attack is like a rock thrown into the water that somehow made no ripples, and perhaps not even a splash.

This does not disprove Dr. Ford’s account, but if there has been a conspiracy of silence to cover something up, that conspiracy was led by Dr. Ford.

And so, we are left to choose sides, unable to say anything for certain. And that, I think, was the purpose of the skit. To reduce the man to a caricature. To weaken what we know and strengthen what we are told to imagine, to dramatize foregone conclusions.

What I know, after all of this, is that Mr. Kavanaugh is trusted by the women and men who know him best. His reputation – before this week’s bizarre events – was good, both personally and professionally. Perhaps more to the point, he honors the Constitution, which he is both required to do by his office and hated for doing by those who staged this week’s skit. That hatred is the real story, and may God help us if it wins.

All the Light We Choose Not to See

“It is a dark world…”, the professor typed, then grumbled at the glare on his computer screen and rose to pull the window shade. “… bleak and precarious…” (Here, his fingers left a smudge of powdered sugar on the keys, residue of the half-eaten doughnut at his elbow.) “…hostile toward continued existence.”

He scrolled up and down the page, sharpening his comments about the brutality of life in a godless universe. His eyes scanned the screen, sensing minute differences in color that his brain resolved into letter shapes and somehow buffered into a sequence of words that reproduced his ideas. His fingers flicked smoothly over the keyboard, their shape changing rapidly and gracefully in a dance that featured an astounding array of muscles and ligaments, bones, joints, and nerve endings, all choreographed by his thoughts — which at this moment focused on the undirected nature of human existence.

“What we call life”, he typed, “is not a story, but a random stream of mechanical and chemical events, including our sensations of…” – the door to his study opened, admitting his young daughter. His irritation at the interruption was balanced by the tenderness between them. She loved him, and he scooped her into his arms and promised to come to dinner in a minute, then turned back to his computer. “…chemical events, including our sensations of…”, of what? “…of meaning and purpose, which are logically unsupportable, and feelings of personal significance which are fraudulent but compelli…” – here the door opened again.

“Daddy! It’s been a minute. C’mon!” He rose and carried his princess down the hall toward the comforting smell of dinner. There was no bowing of heads before the meal, no one to whom gratitude was due. He ate, mostly listening to his daughter talk with excitement about her day, unmindful of the intricate process by which plants and animals become food, become nourishment and strength and consciousness and life.

After dinner, he returned to his study and wrote about the tribal origins of religion, unaware of the gentle sky that overshadowed his neighborhood, the cool evening air that charged his lungs and brain, the passing of the sun that had filled the house with light and warmth, the thousand little things that gave him strength to refute and comfort to ignore the one toward whom all humble things point.