Playing the Cards We’re Dealt

My regular readers are probably aware that, among my other activities, I’m pursing a PhD in Computational Engineering at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.  It’s been an experience for several reasons.  Starting such a degree in my superannuated condition wasn’t an easy thing to do for that reason alone.  Being both on the faculty and being a student at the same time is a bizarre experience; I’ve taught students one semester only to have them as fellow students the following year!

Such a course of study is demanding by nature; I challenge any of the talking and writing heads who claim to be so “scientific” to try it sometime.  My “baptism of fire” in this came with a course entitled Computational Fluid Dynamics I.  The first day of class I sat down and looked around.  There were students from all over the world: Iran, China, India and a few of my fellow Americans thrown in for comic relief.  It didn’t take long to realise that this was the smartest group of people I had ever taken a course with in my life.

It also didn’t take long to realise I was unprepared in many ways for this adventure.  To start with, it was the first course in fluid mechanics of any kind I had taken in over thirty years; in spite of this, I have gone on to specialise in things under the earth, not things that fly over it.  Beyond that it requires a complete command of linear algebra, something that was also lacking in my repertoire (although I’ve tried to make up for that since, with some success.)

So this was a tough course.  When it came to mid-term time, I didn’t do so well, but all things considered neither did the class in general.  This led our professor to deliver one of the most abject “half-time” speeches I have heard in academia, although I’ll bet that Derek Dooley’s addresses to the Vols this past season were at least on par.   The most memorable takeaway from that address was that we were dealt certain cards in life, and that we had to play them.

These days there’s a lot of “post-game wraps” going on after our election; mine is here.  On the conservative side there’s still a general disbelief: how could this happen in this country?  What are we going to do?  What can we do?  How can we make a comeback?  Lastly, and more immediately, how do we keep from falling off this “fiscal cliff”?

We can debate these questions from now until the cows return to their dwelling places, but ultimately these debates don’t change anything, action does.  Although Evangelicals will take exception to putting it this way, this son of hard-drinking, card-playing Episcopalians won’t: we need to start by playing the cards we are dealt and stop living in the subjunctive of the way we’d like things to be.

There are two basic (and usually unsaid) assumptions floating around the conservative world that I cannot subscribe to, and they both relate to my Christian world view.

The first is that we can solve our problems by putting the ideologically correct people in power and implementing the ideologically/morally correct program.  That puts too much stock in politics as the linchpin of our happiness.  If we really believe this, we are no different than either the left (who live to exert power through the political process) or the Islamicists (whose religion makes politics and faith a unity).  Christianity is among other things a rejection of this kind of thing.  At the start Jesus rejected the Jews’ general opinion that their national salvation came from restored nationhood.  The Jewish leadership never quite figured that part of his message out (Pilate did, but then turned him over for crucifixion for convenience sake).  It seems as if that comprehension has been lost in our day once again.  That’s not a difficult mistake to make in a society where the government is or is becoming the all in all, but it’s one we must avoid.

The second is that we can only be happy under ideal conditions.  This is a product of the fact that, in many ways, the United States has been (with exceptions) two hundred years under ideal conditions.  This article of faith has been propagated on both sides of the cultural divide.  On the one hand atheists and secularists have challenged the existence of God based on the fact that bad stuff happens in the creation, which wouldn’t (supposedly) happen with an omnipotent creator.  On the other hand Christian preachers go on with one form or another of prosperity teaching, where being wealthy (definition?) and happy are an integral result of what Robert Tilton used to call “the God kind of faith”.

Neither of these ideas is either tenable or Biblical, but that hasn’t stopped Christian leaders from continuing to propagate both even in the face of recent disasters.  We need a reality check and we need one in a hurry.

We’ve said that, if things continued on their present course, we would have disaster.  Well, they have and we will.  Our health care system will be damaged beyond repair with Obamacare; we’ll need a passport and a plane ticket if we want decent medical procedures in the not to distant future, since they’re going to make it difficult if not impossible to bribe the doctor.  We’re going to get stuck with same-sex civil marriage one way or another, although that result was entirely avoidable if we had pushed for the abolition of the institution when we had the chance.  Our economy will continue to be run down by a political class that is neither up to limited government nor big government that accomplishes substantive things (like nice airports and transportation systems, etc., we see elsewhere in the world).

But, as I reminded people before the election, we have only one true country, and it isn’t this one.  So, you ask, what about our children?  That was precisely the question our ancestors’ generation asked before their children came to this country.  If things are bad enough they can repeat the feat and start over somewhere else.  To do that they’re going to have to ignore much of the swelling rhetoric about pursuing their dream and get some marketable skills before they move, something those coming to this country do all the time.

Life can be bad, but that doesn’t mean that we have to be miserable.  “Listen! a time is coming–indeed it has already come–when you are to be scattered, each going his own way, and to leave me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. I have spoken to you in this way, so that in me you may find peace. In the world you will find trouble; yet, take courage! I have conquered the world.”  (John 16:32-33 TCNT)  That comfort is ultimately what makes it possible for us to play the cards we have been dealt.

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