A Tale Of Two Cities

More years ago than I care to admit, my sister started off her valedictory speech with a quote from Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. She of course was using it to refer to the many experiences the class had in its four years of high school, and would now face in life going forward. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. — A Tale of Two Cities

While the title would lead you to think this was a novel about two cities, it was really about two different men. It is that twist that makes this selection of a title for my blog post apropos. In my own version of the twist, I’m going to be talking about two types of people. And the study will also be one of contrasts.

“It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,” which was it? I’m going to submit it is both. From 2:00pm to 9:00pm Cafe Crop had a booth set up at the Lake County Fair. We asked people who stopped by to take a few minutes to write a note to a member of our armed forces expressing their thanks, support, and encouragement. These are specifically for men and women who are not getting notes from home when others are. The age of wisdom folks realized what they had to be thankful for, and took the few minutes to write out a card. The age of foolishness folks would hardly look in our direction, and those that did say something said things like, “I don’t have time.”

As I witnessed this behavior throughout the evening, I found myself thinking that the very freedom these people have to experience the fun they are having at the fair is made possible by these men and women serving in places where they want us dead. Yet they can’t spare a few minutes to pause and say thank you? I was having my own “epoch of incredulity.” The only thing that saved the day for my “epoch of belief” were the many people who did stop, pause, and write out a note.

There are plenty of well meaning people who wonder why our troops need to be deployed around the globe, and near so many hotspots. They’ve been removed from Iraq, and soon Afghanistan, and we may be pleased. Yet the removal of our troops has resulted in brutal and powerful forces taking over what we left for the Iraqi military to defend their country. Instead, ISIS has taken over, and they are killing Christians. Perhaps you don’t care about that, and perhaps you think the United States should not care.

Perhaps your excuse is that you don’t like the current Commander-in-Chief. He’s spending more time golfing than being a leader. Fine, but what does that have to do with the men or women who are in harms way? Why take your annoyance out on them? Aren’t they still our heroes?

More importantly, if we are not willing to stand for good as a nation, then as the saying goes,

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. — Edmond Burke

Then as now,

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. — George Santayana

To continue with the thoughts of Dickens, I’d rather not consider this in the realm of “the superlative degree of comparison only.” Rather, I’d like to learn from historical events, and instead of repeating them be a force for good in the world. Practically speaking peace is not achieved by appeasement at any level. From the schoolyard bully to rogue terrorists, you don’t achieve peace by giving them what they want. That just escalates their cruelty and emboldens them. Instead, bullies and terrorists need to be put in their place. Seriously, do we think we are punishing the bully by suspending them from school for a day or a week? Are we that stupid as to think that is an effective punishment? If we don’t stand up to the terrorists in Iraq, how long do you think it will be before they figure out how to attack us here at home?

And to come full circle with what touched off writing this piece. If we cannot find the time to encourage our service men and women now, what will happen when the fight comes closer to home? Oh, wait. It has. Our streets and homes are full of violence. Those that are willing to “serve and protect” are being gunned down in our cities. And we continue to blame government, and anyone and everyone else. The reality is that we are the “Tale of Two Cities”, we are facing the “winter of despair” and it is of our own making. The “spring of hope” seems to be impossible to attain once again.

The reason we’re having a hard time getting to hope again is because we’ve forgotten where it comes from. The ancient king of Israel had this problem too. He asked this question:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?

What was David’s answer, and what is ours?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

I wrote my note this afternoon to someone who was willing to serve. I thanked them for their sacrifice. I’m thankful they were willing to make that sacrifice for so many ungrateful people. Come to think of it, I’m thankful that God was willing to sacrifice his Son, Jesus Christ for me because I was ungrateful at one point about that too. I pray that we are on God’s side in battle. I pray for God’s protection of our troops, wherever they may be. And I pray that those who lead our troops would allow their decisions to be formed by Almighty God.

But that’s not enough. I pray that I would put my hope in God, and that my fellow Americans would do the same. Then perhaps we can begin to restore hope in our homes, in our streets, and in our towns and cities. With God’s help we can once again be that shining city on a hill. Without it we’re a crumbling city on a hill. Or to paraphrase Dickens, “we were a shining city on a hill, we were a crumbling city on a hill.” What is your choice?