Fellowship Class

Tarrytown United Methodist Church

August 16, 1998

Wayne Danielson

A Letter to Lacey

Psalm 30:5. His anger lasts a moment, his favour a lifetime;

in the evening a spell of tears, in the morning shouts of joy.

Luke 7: 20-23. When the men reached Jesus they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come or have we to wait for someone else?” It was just then that he cured many people of diseases and afflictions and of evil spirits, and gave the gift of sight to many who were blind.Then he gave the messengers their answer, “Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see again, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the Good News is proclaimed to the poor and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.”

2 Timothy 4:7. I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day; and not only to me but to all those who have longed for his Appearing.

We have had a long, hot summer.

But it seems to me that it is beginning to lose its terrible strength, and things are looking up.

• We had some rain this week in our part of town, and the grass turned green again on our hilly front yard.

• Big Red, the vain dragonfly, appeared in our back yard a couple of weeks ago. Of course it’s not the same Big Red of a few years back, but I’m sure he’s a descendant. He’s still showing off for Mrs. Red, who is busy laying eggs in our pond.

• Our new dog, Samuel Wigglesworth Danielson, has learned 10 words: Follow, stop, come here, calm down, be quiet, it’s time to go to bed, good dog, bad dog, and potty on the paper. The last three terms are closely related. And I should note that although Sammy knows the words “potty on the paper,” he doesn’t do it dependably.

• LaVonne likes her new school — it’s a happy place. You really should go see it. It’s out in Southwest Austin, at the corner of Escarpment and Davis. You wouldn’t believe how colorful it is.

• We like the new Chinese restaurant, P.F. Chang’s, right behind Saks Fifth Avenue (formerly Simon David) in the Arboretum.

• I think I am beginning to understand my new and improved bank statement, even if I do have to put on my strongest glasses in order to read it.

• I gave my final exam yesterday in my Summer School course, Theories of Communication. I taught it in a new way, putting all my lectures in PowerPoint on my laptop computer. I just carried the computer into the auditorium, hooked it up to the projector, and my notes were projected behind me on a big screen. After class, I put the notes up on the internet for students to review. I felt quite advanced about the whole process. And I think the students liked it too. Some of them brought their boyfriends and girlfriends with them to class — and they didn’t even have to attend.

• I got a good medical report from Dr. Grover Bynum.The tests didn’t have so many items on the pink side of the report this year.

• Dr. Bynum asked me, “Are you still on your honeymoon?” I answered, “Absolutely, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ll be there for a good while yet.”

• My heart still beats funny, and I have to take a stress test tomorrow at Dr. Robinson’s. But I think I’ll pass ok. I’m not proud, and I quit as soon as I begin to feel tired.

• I suppose you noticed my new haircut. I go to Juantino’s out on Highway 183, and LaVonne says I always come back looking as well-groomed as the mayor of a Mexican border town.

° My talk at the national journalism teachers convention in Baltimore was well received.I’m a senior person there now, and I am treated with a certain awe. My speech was entitled, “Talking with a Dinosaur,” and I think they’re going to print it in Journalism Quarterly.

• Oh, and the fire ants are out of the hummingbird feeder, at least for the time being.

All in all, things are looking good on a number of fronts, and I’m looking forward to teaching again in the fall term, which begins on August 26.

So I was somewhat taken aback when I received the following e-mail letter from a student in the my summer class. She is a good student — she got a 98 on the last quiz, and that’s rare in my course. I want to read her letter to you. I’ve changed her name and the name of the author of the article she refers to. The article was highly critical of the performance of the American press in the Gulf War, as well as being critical of the war itself. Here’s what she said:

The content of Wilson’s article is not only disturbing, but frustrating.

Essentially, he outlined in detail something I have been forever aware of, but increasingly told to believe. And that is: the impossibility of objectivity.

In other countries, such as France, they don’t even attempt to live under the guise of objectivity, somehow intuitively knowing that it doesn’t exist.Therefore, they distribute newspapers of the left, right and center views and allow the consumer to read his/her choice.This is a far better system, sir. Personally, I would buy all three just to get different perspectives and at least under those circumstances I wouldn't be fooled into believing that fairness actually existed.

Another problem that I am plagued with is that journalism is my major.

I don’t even like journalism if I’m going to be forced to voice the opinions of the invisible ‘man’ who manipulates information in order to keep the public in the dark. I understand that this is a pessimistic attitude, but I also am constantly finding it to be realistic as well.

At what point will I have freedom to write the truth? When will I be allowed to expose the government and its corruption? Why is everyone else seemingly so unwilling to do so? Don’t they care? Wilson’s examples of the Persian Gulf War are quite possibly the most disgusting acts of indecency on the part of the American press because they involve human lives and treat them as mere ‘casualties’ of war.He was right on when he said that he mourns the lives of the tens of thousands of Iraqis as well as the lives of the tens of Americans. What human being wouldn’t?

In short, do you have any words of wisdom to offer someone like myself, who wants to believe that society can change, but is always drowning in the knowledge that it can’t? I assume you have encountered this problem because you seem to be a good man and you go to church, so you must love God, who certainly doesn’t approve of the media. I would appreciate your writing back.


Lacey Jones

Well, that’s probably the toughest letter I ever received from a student.

I got it on Tuesday, and I have yet to come up with an answer for Lacey. I promised her that I would write, but I just haven’t been able to do it yet.

I brought it up this morning because I thought maybe some of you could help me out.

What can I tell this bright young woman, who seems to see our country, its military forces, its leadership and its press in such dark terms? She is 22 years old, for heaven’s sake? Where do these depressing thoughts, these gloomy opinions come from?

How can I help her see that her life is worth living, and that she has a great deal to contribute to our country and to our press?

To begin with, I think I’ll have to tell her she will have to find most of the answers herself.

She’s highly unlikely to hear them from an old dinosaur like me. She has her own work to do.

Beyond that, however, I’m unsure of what to say next.

How can I tell her that I agree that objectivity is an impossible goal, but it is still a goal worth striving for. I’m afraid I’ll come across as a modern day Don Quixote, romantically defending a philosophy from the past, and like the old Don bravely flailing away at windmills.

How can I tell her that the men and women who serve in our country’s armed forces risk their lives for all of us, and that the uniform they wear is worthy of our respect?

I suspect that she has never been in a war or anywhere near a war. It will be hard to make this point come across to her, I believe.

And should our press support our armed forces in time of war? I think that it should. The truth is not always on the other side. Why shouldn’t the press give our military the benefit of the doubt and support the young men and women who are out there on the front lines?

She asks when she will have the freedom to tell the truth?

How can I tell her she has it right now. She doesn’t need to wait. There is a lot more freedom in American journalism than she thinks.

She won’t have to obey the paranoid wishes of anyone. She can say what she thinks and believes as long as she can back it up with fact. Furthermore, she won’t have to do it on her own. She will find lots of people in and out of the press who will be willing to help her tell the truth.

On the other hand, not much tolerance exists for those who simply rant and rave, with nothing except their own opinions as proof. Most of us have had quite enough of that.

Can society change?

Of course it can.

Those of us who have lived longer than 22 years can attest to that.

The country has changed a great deal, and in general it has changed in the direction of permitting greater freedom of individual and group action.

The movement is in the right direction.

But change won’t happen overnight, no matter how much we desire it to.

I’d like to tell her about a street that I drive on every morning on the way to work.

This is Blue Grass Drive, a mile-long road along a ridge in the Great Hills.

This road is a microcosm of the America that is coming to be — a multicultural America of wealth and happiness.

As I drive along Blue Grass Drive in the morning, I see African Americans, white Americans, Indian Americans, Mexican Americans, Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans — all living  on the same street.

In particular, I see the old people of these multicultural families, still managing to live with their children in peace. I notice one old couple from India in particular. If it is still dark when I drive by, I find them walking side by side. If the sun has come up, the man is a couple of steps out in front of his sari-clad wife. How charming.

This is the future.

This is the America that could be.

Yes, society can change. And Lacey can help change it.

But in order to do that, she has to change, too, I think.

She has to move out of the gloom and doom philosophy that now envelopes her.

She thinks that God would condemn our press.

I don’t know what God thinks.

All I know is what I read in the Bible.

And that message, from the beginning to the end, is  optimistic. Humankind is not doomed to unending depression and anxiety. Its future is bright.

The Psalms read:

Psalm 30:5. His anger lasts a moment, his favour a lifetime; in the evening a spell of tears, in the morning shouts of joy.

The Bible is mainly about joy. It is mainly about bright futures. It is mainly a progress report about the coming of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Jesus’s view of the world and of humankind was almost unbelievably optimistic. If people would but repent and change their ways what a place it would be. Common people could be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Their faith would move mountains. The lost would be found. The mourners would find joy. The righteous would be justified. The meek would inherit the earth. The last would be first. And death — even death — would be conquered.

“Thy kingdom come,” Jesus taught his followers to pray to God.

When John the Baptist sent messengers to ask whether Jesus was indeed the Messiah, Jesus sent back this message of hope and faith:

“Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see again, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the Good News is proclaimed to the poor and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.”

Paul, the great disciple of Jesus, after his conversion, changed from a dark and gloomy young man into a radiant and powerful prophet, capable of turning a whole empire in the direction of Christ Jesus.

Though he endured terrible trials, he seems never to have lost heart, never to have lost confidence that he had indeed found The Way.

At the end of his life, imprisoned in Rome, and awaiting what according to legend was his martyrdom by the sword, he could still write this triumphant letter to his helper, the young Timothy:

2 Timothy 4:7.I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day; and not only to me but to all those who have longed for his Appearing.

When all is said and done, how we find the world to be, is mainly a matter of perspective. It is a matter of how we look at it and what we intend to do about it.

If we look at it as hopelessly bad, cruel, dark, lonely and absurd, we won’t be able to do much about it. We will be unable to act, or if we do act, we will act in the way of cowardly terrorism and just try to blow they whole thing up.

If we can look at it closely and accurately, and still see signs of hope and opportunity, then we will be able to do a great deal to change things for the better.

What nurse in a dim hospital first looked at a jaundiced baby and said, “This baby needs some sunlight,” and took that baby to a window, and miraculously, in the sunlight, the baby’s liver started working, and the jaundice disappeared. Her insight is now routine treatment for a life-threatening condition. It was so simple. And all it took was a way of looking at a hopeless situation and finding in it a common sense ray of sunshine.

What mother, having lost a baby to SIDS, went against tradition and said, “I’m going to have this baby sleep on his back and not on his stomach, and thereby set in motion a change in childcare practice that has greatly reduced sudden infant death throughout the world.

When Alexander Fleming, culturing a deadly bacteria, found a mold growing in the infectious mixture, instead of throwing it out as contaminated, he said: “Wait a minute. How can a common mold grow in that culture? By asking that question he discovered penicillin — a drug that saved countless lives, including mine and perhaps yours as well somewhere along the way.

It was a question of attitude, of how he looked at things, of his being open-minded and caring, and intelligent and thoughtful. Instead of condemning the way things were, he saw in that way a possibility for beneficial change.

Look at my life, Lacey,  distant though it may be from your own. It could be considered a mess.

• We have had a terrible summer. We’ve lost a lot of the garden. I could easily have given up on the whole thing and gone to zero-scape gardening. I was tempted, but I prefer to see the green coming back in the grass.

• I could lament the death of Big Red, my dragonfly friend of a few years back. But in welcoming his descendant to my yard and pond, I see God’s hand at work in the progress of the generations.

• Our new dog, Samuel Wigglesworth Danielson, is a slow learner as far as his potty training is concerned. But I prefer to look at how many words he is learning and to have confidence that one of these days he will actually understand what I am trying to get through his little puppy skull.

• The colors in LaVonne’s new school really look like a paint box upset. But they do brighten up what would otherwise be a dull and inward-looking building.

• The parking lot at P.F. Chang’s is too small. And so are the portions on the plate — it’s kind of Chinese nouvelle cuisine out there. But the food is good, and the service is fine. It’s a happening place. Whether you like it depends on your point of view.

• My account was overdrawn last month because of that dadgummed new bank statement. They put my reserve loan account in with my true balance. I could have been royally hacked off and quit my bank of 30 years. I didn’t.

• It was a lot of work changing my method of teaching this summer. I could have taught my course from the same old notes I have used for years. But I didn’t. I tried to change. And LaVonne knows how many hours I spent doing it. As a matter of fact she spent a lot of evenings helping me get ready.

• My medical report was pretty good, but when all is said and done, I am getting older. And there’s not a lot I can do about that. It would be easy just to let go and coast off to oblivion. I won’t do that. The angels will have to haul me off to heaven, I expect.

• Dr. Bynum asked me, “Are you still on your honeymoon?” I answered, “Absolutely, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ll be there for a good while yet.” The honeymoon could have been over a long time ago. But I like to keep the romance alive. And I have a good reason for doing so.

• My heart still beats funny, and I have to take a stress test tomorrow at Dr. Robinson’s office. This could be depressing, but I’ve decided that a heart with a little syncopation is more interesting than one that beats with the regularity of a grandfather’s clock. Don’t you agree?

• My multicultural haircut certainly goes with my multicultural neighborhood.

• I could have bored the national convention with a talk about how good the old days were, but I talked instead about all the changes and improvements one old dinosaur has seen.

• Will the fire ants be back in the hummingbird feeder? I’m sure they will. They’re probably there right now because, I suspect, God loves the fire ants just as he loves me.

And, as far as I know, God even loves the American media, confused and befuddled and evil-minded as they sometimes are. I don’t know what God thinks, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

Maybe I can think of a way to tell that to Lacey.

I’d like to close today with one of my favorite blessings. It is that of Father Giovanni, first addressed to his congregation in Italy on Christmas Day in 1513. The good father is long forgotten, but his words come drifting down the centuries to us with the same beauty and optimism they expressed so long ago:

I salute you! There is nothing I can give you which you have not; but there is much that, while I cannot give, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take Heaven.

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take Peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach is joy. Take joy.

And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.