Friday, May 01, 2009

Bits and Pieces (in no particular order of importance)

1. “I’m from the government, and we’re here to help you.”

Driving home today (no, this isn’t going to be one of my “highway rants”), I heard a report on the radio that Congress is going to be holding hearings on… the BCS system for college football bowl games. The rationale? Depends upon who has been asked. One elected official noted that college football involves hundreds of millions of dollars each season – although so far, apparently, no one in Congress has figured out how they can get a cut of that money. Another wondered who elected the persons responsible for administering the BCS, and making the decisions as to which teams are eligible for the system, and which are not. More than one noted that three members of Congress, who have introduced legislation addressing the BCS, are all from states with universities who have recently had football teams that have done extremely well, even going undefeated, but were either passed over when it came to the national championship game, or were not in the BCS “mix” at all.

I am not a college football fan. As such, while I’m aware that there are many people who dislike the BCS system and either want it changed or eliminated, I don’t lose any sleep over which teams are in, and which teams are out. But as a citizen, I have to wonder why the U.S. Congress is taking the time – and spending our money – to hold hearings about the BCS system. What, they don’t have anything better to do? Perhaps someone can show me where the regulation of college sports is found in the Constitution of the United States? I can’t seem to find it, myself…

• Just a little bit…
OK, one little bit of highway ranting. Isn’t it amazing how people can spend thousands and thousands of dollars on an automobile, have it equipped with all the latest gizmos and gadgets, and yet forget to buy a car with turn signals that work? Maybe they think the other drivers on the road are all psychics, and so already know when they’re going to change lanes, and in which direction?

2. The Coming Flu Pandemic?

The World Health Organization – and you have to figure that whoever came up with the name has a sublime sense of humor: “WHO?” “Exactly!” – today raised its forecast for the "Influenza A(H1N1)" virus – aka “swine flu”; “swine-avian flu”; and “Mexican flu,” among others – to a level 5, one step below the maximum. This action was taken only a day after the WHO had increased the level from 3 to 4. Turn on the news from any source, and you’re going to hear more about this virus than seems possible. Last time I checked, no one outside of the country of Mexico has died from having been affected by the H1N1 virus; and a report I heard this morning on the television while preparing breakfast said that the number of deaths in Mexico has been revised downward to a total of ten deaths. Now, this is not to minimize those deaths – each person is precious to the Lord, and is loved by Him, as well as by the families of these victims – but do we really need all the hullabaloo about the swine flu (isn’t that nicely alliterative?) and the fear-mongering about a global pandemic? Some perspective is needed here. Depending upon the source, it is estimated that the everyday regular old garden-variety flu results in complications that kill thirty to thirty-six thousand people every year. Granted, the majority of those are among the very young and the very old, and those whose immune systems have been compromised for some reason; and that the H1N1 virus seems to target instead those usually not likely to suffer from the flu – but come on! To be closing schools, and arguing about closing borders, and canceling public events such as concerts and the theater and sports when some very basic steps – don’t cough or sneeze on other people, and wash your hands frequently – seem to be enough to defeat this thing?

As such, it may prompt you to wonder why so much attention is being focused on this virus. Of course, bad news sells; and threats of catastrophe are almost as good as the real thing for driving up ratings and increasing sales. More troubling is the possibility – not that I think this is what is happening, mind you, but there is always the possibility, however remote – that one of two things is driving the news reporting. The first that comes to mind – at least, to my mind – is the parallel to the central plot in Tom Clancy’s book, Rainbow Six. For those not familiar with the book, “Rainbow Six” is the name of an international emergency response/counter-terrorist team of experts; and they are called in when it is discovered that a sophisticated group of terrorists have cultured a strain of the Ebola virus that they plan to release at the closing ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. A factor in the plot is that the method of exposure will cause the effects of the virus to be spread around the globe, resulting in a pandemic that will topple all the nations of the world, kill millions, and allow the select group of survivors to “save the earth” and begin a new human culture that is environmentally “sensitive.” There. I think that describes it, without giving away too much! Could this be some sort of test?

Way back in 2006, in a remembrance of the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, I wrote:
But I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t more at work here; whether or not the government is using the remembrances of that day to stir us up anew to efforts in the “War on Terror” that is changing us as a society and as a people; and whether or not the media is complicit, knowingly or unknowingly, in this effort by the government. Yes, I know I’ve ranted here before on the parallels I see between the “War on Terror” and the state of perpetual warfare depicted in George Orwell’s novel, 1984; but the parallels are there – I can’t ignore them, nor be silent about them, nor be concerned about the direction we are taking, which, in many ways, leads us closer to that nightmare world…
Again, I’m not saying this is what is happening, nor even that there’s any real likelihood that such a thing could happen; but there is always the possibility, and I’ve been around government enough to know that the most important question is always, “How do we stay in power?” (Just ask newly-Democratic Senator Arlen Specter about that…) Oh, and since you asked: yes, I enjoyed the movie, V for Vendetta, with Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman…

3. A Realization

If you get an email from me, you’ll find that I sign the reply (at least, the first of the day), “Your unworthy servant in Christ, Priest John McCuen.” Above all, I do this to remind myself that, despite all the efforts of good people in our congregation and elsewhere, who treat me as if I am worthy of respect, that I am not worthy of that treatment. Indeed, those who will not enter or exit a building before me, who step aside to allow me to go first to venerate the icons, who allow me to go through the buffet line first – when they haven’t instead seated me at the head of the table and served me there, with no need to go through the line at all – and other courtesies, by doing these things, do so – hopefully, knowingly – to honor our Lord Jesus Christ, Whose representative in their midst is part of the vocation of the ordained clergy. I’m OK with that; and will, from time to time, try to gently point that out. But the realization today came as I was typing a reply to an email with my usual signature line, what that also includes. Every time I get disgruntled when, at the last minute, there is a request for a molieben or a pannikhida or the prayers before traveling, or whatever it is that has upset me, I need to recall that our Lord Jesus Christ, Who certainly is worthy of being honored and glorified, did not allow this to deter Him from “emptying Himself,” as St. Paul writes in his letter to the church in Philippi, and becoming a servant, even unto death on the Cross – for the sake of our salvation, and for love. I am but the unworthy servant of the Servant-King; and need to respond in the same way. Well, by God’s grace – and if you will do so, by your prayers – perhaps one day I will achieve in my being the words I write when sending a letter or an email.