Wednesday, March 19

There are vast swaths of the Bible I can read through without reacting, but the story of Abraham and Isaac is not one of them. I avoid this story like the plague, because it hurts so bad.

Abraham sits awake by the fire, the night before The Day, and he watches his son Isaac sleeping under the stars. His body is numb and his mind clicks machine-like from task to task. He has torqued down the clamp on his emotions so tightly now that nothing will ever touch him again. He does not understand, he CANNOT understand, yet he is driven by the Command and he knows that on the morrow he will do the very last thing he could have ever imagined doing.

This boy, this beautiful boy, sleeping peacefully on the sand under these stars.

Oh God, not the stars, not the sand.

His heart is a lump of cold lead somewhere inside the deadness of his chest - and that is all he can feel. He knows it is cold outside, he can see his breath, but he is unable to sense cold. He knows the fire is warm - all fires are warm - but he can feel nothing. The wind moves his hair move across his face, but he senses it as if from a great distance. His vision has gone red around the edges - red like blood and like fire and like madness.

How did it come to this? He wills himself to forget the past, to forget the future, to forget everything but the act he knows he will commit tomorrow. Is he mad? Of course he is. Madness is the only possible response - madness or suicide. But a man must be alive to commit suicide. And Abraham knows for certain he is already dead. Oh, his heart still beats and blood still flows in his veins, he can see his chest moving and know that breath still flows in his lungs, but that is simply the habit of the body. He is surely already dead.

Sand and stars and even his name mock him now. All those choices he made parade past his inner eye, a procession of demons. Why did he leave home and family? Why? Such pain... Why did he dream that dream under the Oaks at Mamre? Who is this God that gives and takes with such sovereign impunity, who treats mankind as toy soldiers to be set up and knocked down at will? He quickly slams the lid on these thoughts - Thinking is no longer an option. All that is left is Doing. And then after that...

There is no after that.

Isaac stirs, and mumbles something, rolling with his face towards the fire. Abraham gazes in mute wonder at the miracle sleeping blissfully unaware on the other side of the fire. If he had any heart left at all, surely it would break in two now. But he is already dead inside. He died the moment he heard those words:

...take your only son Isaac, and offer him...

Oh how he wished he could die this moment. But he knows as surely as the stars above his head and the sand under his feet that he will keep on breathing, and that he will not stop breathing until this soveriegn, imperious God decrees it to be so. And so he wills himself to concentrate on this shining, golden moment - he forces himself to study the face of his beloved Isaac, to memorize ever curve and crevice of that beautiful face; the dark hair; the strong hands, the broad shoulders that will never carry a son...

"STOP IT!", he commands himself.

What is this dread certainty that impels him onward? Why not just say, "to hell with it" and put an end to this madness?

The small little man in his mind, the one that can never quite be silent, whispers to him, "remember The Promise", and the last desperate hope within him wants to grasp that ethereal Word. But he knows it is just a dream, an illusion, a wish as surely as his whole sorry life has been nothing but a wish. Nothing makes sense, nothing will ever make sense again. ALl that is left is breathing and doing till the day he can blissfully stop.

Somehow, in spite of his fervent desire, night mercilessly gave way to the cruelty of morning. The first rays of daylight stabbed across the floor of the desert and through his soul with the speed and violence of a sword-thrust. And yes, Abraham thought, yes of course the sky is blood red. And I am dead, and Isaac is so very alive and soon even this will not be so.
In later years, looking back on that night and the following day, Abraham had shadowy recollections - he remembered the heaviness of his old legs as they climbed the mountain, he recalled that the buzzing in his ears and the redness that never left the periphery of his vision. He remembered the sound of Isaac's questions as if he listened from the bottom of a well. He remembered stones and wood and rope and the uncomprehending look in his son's eyes as he bound him and gently laid him across the altar. And cold metal - he remember the sound of the knife as he pulled it from its sheath. Cold and hard and unforgiving as man - the cruel sunlight glinted off the blade as he grasped it familiarly, momentarily blinding him. He remembered how dispassionately he wondered how he would go home afterward. Or even if he would go home. Anywhere or nowhere was fine. Maybe he would just stay on top of this mountain and never move again. He felt his arm lift into the air as if it had a will of its own, he looked up at the blade then down at his son; he was grasping Isaac's arms, pulling his shoulders back and his chest forward. That moment, etched forever in his memory, dripped with life and death and fear and ache and sorrow.

And Fury.


With primeval rage and a furious roar, he thrust downward with the knife...

...and felt his arm stopped in mid-flight.

Someone had grabbed his arm. He turned his head to see a hand - a strong, familiar hand on his arm. And heard a familiar Voice, "Not the boy, Abraham, not the boy. Take the lamb - the one caught there in the bush."

That same voice - that same unmistakable Word - the very Word that had seized him so many years ago, compelled him to leave Mother and Father and Land and Home and strike out looking for a city of his own, that same Word that had made the Promise, that same Word that had come twice more in the most unexpected times and ways - that Word which had only last week taken his very heart and snuffed it like a glowing wick - that selfsame Word restored to him his very life and promise and love...
In the days and years that followed, he and Isaac never spoke about The Day. But Isaac would sometimes simply gaze upong the old man with a mixture of awe and fear and deep, deep love. For his part, Abraham never saw Isaac the same way again. In some ways, if it was at all possible, Isaac was even more precious to him than he had been before The Day. And yet in other ways, Abraham knew with deep certainty that Isaac did not belong to him, never had belonged to him. He knew that he, Abraham and Isaac and who-knows-who-else, were merely players in a grand drama that was being worked out before his very eyes by a God both closer and more mysterious than he had ever dared imagine.

And that was enough.

Wednesday, March 5

My normal day starts with a trip to school to drop off the kids. On the way, we listen to NPR. Usually, after the kids jump out of the car, I switch to ESPN radio to listen to Mike & Mike in the Morning, (Mike Golic used to be a local radio personality, and I like listening to him), but this morning I kept it on NPR. And heard that 53% of Russians think Josef Stalin was a great man.

Hold that thought while I bring another stream online.

Last night we had our small group meeting at my house. I started to exercise my normal leadership style, which is actually no leadership at all - really just facilitation. I realised quickly that these folks didn't want facilitation, they wanted to be lead. And further, that they would do what I said. I've had to make a conscious effort to lead rather than facilitate this meeting over the last month, and I have quite frankly been shocked at the eager acceptance these folks accord my leadership. I'm certain my shock is related to the fact that I would not be near so easy to lead as they are. But still, they desperately want to be lead and respond positively to strong leadership.

Hold that thought while a third stream joins the river.

The story I quoted from on 2/28 talks about how the first chapter of Genesis shatters the idols of day with the assertion that the one true God created everything. One of the most ancient myths of beginings is the Chaos/Order dichotomy. Choas is personified and is seen to be the overriding reality in all creation. Some great god fights with Choas, pushes him back and brings order, but Chaos is always lurking around the borderlands, looking for an opportunity to bring destruction and wreak havoc. The ancient Greeks developed the political philosophy of the Republic largely out of desire to bring order out of chaos rather than to bring freedom to the masses.

I heard in the voices of the Russians interviewed on the NPR program this morning the same longing for order. These folks honestly missed Stalin, wept at his memory and considered him a great man - because he brought order and because the country was strong and feared when he was the leader. They desperately long for leadership - any leadership -and are apparently willing to accept genocide as the price of pushing back Chaos.

I struggle to make sense of this. What is it about the Russians in particular, (and most people in general), that will embrace a strong leader who brings order and discipline - even if the cost is mass-murder? The 20th century provides a veritable laundry list of such tyrants. Hitler was actually elected by popular vote. Stalin rose to power on the back of Lenin, who was brought to power in a "people's revolution". Mao led a "people's revolution". Mussolini was lauded not just in Italy but around the world because he "made the trains run on time". Pol Pot, Idi Amin, the Ayatollah Khomeini - I'm just pulling these from memory. Wander backward along history's timeline and you will constantly stub your toes on these murderous despots who are fondly remembered by the very people they destroy. Does Saddam Hussein belong in this pantheon of pusillanimity?

And worse, how many of us are just like that? I'm independent to a fault and difficult to lead, and yet I know I long for strong leadership. The folks in my home group eagerly embrace my leadership. Does paganism have such a grip on this world that we still believe, (and fear!) the Chaos myth?

Does this horrify you like it does me? If Josef Stalin were running for president of Russia today, he would win. Is this the appeal of Napolean, (and Saddam)?

Does Islam appeal for the same reason - it is a strong denouncement of the chaos of the modern west? I'd love to hear comments from whatever readers there may be out there...

Friday, February 28

This article has so many great quotes:
If I could say it, do you think I should have danced it?
Anno Pavlova

Myth is my tongue, which means not that I cheat, but stagger in a light too great to bear.
E. H. W. Meyerstein

Tuesday, February 25

Is the Gospel Really Good News?
Most American evangelicals don't know the Gospel. I am certain this is true because the Gospel story most of them tell me, (when I ask them), is not good news. It is the same nasty old Bad News repackaged and relabeled. And what is that bad news? God demands perfection - and you ain't near perfect, sucker.

Oh, sure - they can throw around phrases like "saved by faith" and "redeemed by the blood" like they know what it means, but the way they act, it sure isn't the mind-blowingly Good News that the Gospel is supposed to be.

So what is the Gospel? Just this:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!

Of course, most evangelicals would agree, but I can tell they don't really believe it. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that they believe they no longer qualify for it.

Most evangelicals apparently think something subjective happened to them at the moment of their conversion, (whatever that may happen to be), and - presto-changeo! - they suddenly ceased to be sinners. They are now - what? Something special that shouldn't sin any more and is in big trouble when they do, right? I can list all the adjectives and the nouns that evangelicals use to describe this special mystical state of those who stand on the "saved" side of that divine Line in the Sand. But - dang - they sure look like, act like, talk like, think like and smell like your typical garden-variety sinner, don't they?

Lemme ask a question? Don't you just totally groove to those dramatic conversion stories? You know the kind - Joe Bad-Ass has spent his whole life kicking sand in the face of 98-pound weaklings, biting the heads off live bats and listening to head-banger-hip-hop-grunge-gansta-rap-rock. He then gets miraculously converted, and immediately starts a successful, (and highly visible), ministry to skinny beach bums. He dresses like Pat Boone, combs his hair like Benny Hinn, listens to CCM day and night and best of all has a godly and beautiful ex-Hawaiian Tropic bikini model for a wife.

Don't we just love those stories?

And in comparison, don't our own pathetic, puny, pitiful Christian lives make us want to hurl? Our lives are mundane, we struggle with the same stupid actions and attitudes we've fought for years. We still don't like skinny geeks. We still enjoy the taste of a good steak. And we honestly think that CCM sucks.

What kind of Christians are we, anyway?

I'll tell you what kind I am - I'm the kind that Christ Jesus came into the world to save. I'll be honest - I'd really like the heart-stopping conversion story and the million-dollar public ministry. But if I had it, I still kinda doubt that I'd be much different from the miserable stinking wretch I am. I'd just have better packaging. And I might start to believe my own press. I might start to think that I was somebody who had power over the ravages of sin, somebody who had some mystical control that the unwashed masses lacked. I might get really, really depressed about the undeniable fact that, in spite of memorizing a squillion verses and having a quiet time 3218 days in a row, I still occasionally lust after my neighbor's wife. I might get a little weird and stupid trying to explain that my fecal matter doesn't really stink, but I'd never be able to get away from the stark truth that I'm not nearly as well-behaved as I ought to be, not nearly as pure of heart as I should be, and not nearly as righteous as I hope to be.

But if I'm convinced that I ain't no longer a sinner, what hope is left for me?

Naw, I pass - you can have your cheap suit and your ministry to beach geeks and your cheesy music. As for me, I'm a sinner utterly unable to do a thing to save myself. I couldn't do it 35 years ago when I first put my faith in Christ, and I still can't do it. Fortunately, Christ Jesus came into the world to save people just exactly like me.

And that, my friends - that is Very Good News Indeed!

Monday, February 24

I stole this from somebody else, but I prefer to call it "research":

I have found that all human beings have limitations, which is something everyone should take into consideration. We should recognize that everybody is capable of making a mistake, and we should not raise any more hell about somebody else's mistakes than we expect to be raised when we make one. Who does not make mistakes? Who is not limited? Everybody but God.
Duke Ellington

Friday, February 21

Somebody in England "Gets It"
There's a lot of stuff that makes the rounds on the internet that is fantasy. So when I got sent a copy of a copy of a copy of a story reportedly written by a "liberal" in the UK, I was deeply skeptical. But I did a little research and discovered, to my delight and surprise, that the article was real.

Here's what Tony Parsons of the UK's Daily Mirror had to say about European anti-Americanism.

Wednesday, February 19

Dear Europe,

My vicar from my home church in England sent me an article regarding the war written by Robert Fisk, the so-called "Liberator of Kabul". This article, (which I am unable to link to - sorry), no doubt captures the mood of many of you in England and Europe regarding America and Americans. It reeks of a mistaken belief many Europeans have about us, namely - that we are wreckless, unintellectual, blood-thirsty simpletons. What is most maddening about this misconception is that the only possible way an American can convince a European that he is not an unsophisticated rube is to agree with the European. Europeans apparently cannot conceive of the possibility that they might be wrong.

We Americans, on the other hand, are very aware that we might be wrong. We remember Vietnam and the Bay of Pigs and Carter's abortive attempt to rescue the hostages from Iran. Like the English and you Europeans, we are cynical and distrustful of our government. We hate what the government did to innocents at Ruby Ridge and Waco and Miami, but we remember also that these attrocities were visited upon us by an administration whose leader wasn't sure how to define the word "is". For the first time in a very long time we have a president who actually seems to rely on principle rather than polls for guidance.

We do not all agree that Saddam poses a direct immediate threat to our security, but this President - the one who actually seems to have some semblance of moral vision - made it clear on 20 September 2001; before a joint session of Congress when he warned the nations of the world that those who are not with us in the fight against terror are against us.

The Butcher of Baghdad has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he is not with us.

Americans are overwhelmingly in favour of removing Saddam, not because we are the doltish, uneducated dupes of a cowboy oilman and his neo-con henchmen, but because we have images of burning, crumbling buildings seared into our national consciousness. We are very aware that politicians are capable of all sorts of nefarious behaviour - remember that we had a front row seat at The Slick WIllie Show for eight miserably long years - but we also know that criminally wicked and evil people who hate the west and will stop at absolutely nothing to destroy us are even now plotting something more devastating than 11 September. And we will not stand idly by and wait for it to be brought to our shores.

In American football, we have a saying that perfectly captures the essence of our response to terrorism: The best defense is a good offense. We were caught napping on nine-eleven, but we are fully awake now and we are determined to carry this war - a war we DID NOT start - to the enemy. We are sorry you don't like it, but quite frankly, it wasn't your WTC and your Pentagon and your Flight 93 that were destroyed.

As I read European and British news reports about the anti-war fervor there, I cannot help but think of Winston Churchill thundering unheeded warnings about Nazi Germany from the backbench of Parliament in the 1930s. Your leaders were proclaiming peace even as an unspeakable evil was being hatched in your midst. How do we know these days are any different than those? How do we know your leaders are any wiser now than then?

Maybe you're right, maybe we are "simpletons". But you, Europe, have little in your recent history to convince us that anything short of a nuclear, chemical or biological attack in the heart of London, Paris or Berlin could possibly shake you out of your moral and intellectual torpor. Your revered principle of moral equivalency has eaten away the very soul of Europe. Your leaders are no longer capable of judging anything as absolutely right or absolutely wrong. Oh, anything that is, except where America is involved; in that case we are apparently wrong all the time.

We here on the western shore of the Atlantic wonder at the moral vacuity of a Europe which could dispassionately observe, (and therefore passively condone), genocide in Yugoslavia and then lecture us on principles of right and wrong. We wonder how many millions more would have died in Slovenia and Bosnia had the United States left it to you to resolve the mess in the Balkans. We remember Sarajevo 1914, too. We marvel that anyone could dare to compare a popularly elected government such as exists in Israel with Yassar Arafat's thugocracy. We remember that all of Europe would be speaking German if not for American "intervention". We remember that it was American military, industrial and economic might that liberated Europe from a Nazi terror that could have been prevented had you heeded the early warnings.

11 September was an early warning.

For generations, we Americans have perceived ourselves to be somehow slightly inferior to our older, more sophisticated cousins on the east side of the Atlantic. But we are slowly coming to conclude that your sophistication is a sham. Europe has become our embittered, crazy, never-married great-aunt who swears and rails and cackles insanely at us from her attic loft. We love her and tolerate her because we remember the relationship we used to have back before she lost her mind and forfeited her soul. We'll shelter her and care for her until she dies, but we now know she has nothing useful to say.

Finally, I can think of no better description than "simpleton" for any person who would argue that this fight is about oil. This is about survival. America was viciously, brutally attacked by an enemy that has no morals we recognize and no creed beyond infidels must die. We recognize, even if you don't, that this is a battle to the death between the ideas that have formed the west for nearly 2000 years and the ideas that hold sway in those poor benighted countries suffering under the tyranny of Islam.

We have been thrust into a war we neither wanted nor asked for. We know we are not virtuous; we are not pure and we are frequently ham-handed in our dealings with others. But we are also very, very angry. And your silly, simplistic and naive arguments do nothing to convince us that you are anything more than the unwitting accomplices of those who would destroy us all in the name of Allah.

Monday, February 10

Had a terrific day yesterday. Chris & Bryanne came up for lunch, Audrey brought a friend (Kat) from school, and Patrick was with us of course. There were 9 people around my dinner table - and that is good. Kat is delightful person - English Lit major who is getting into real meat. Currently into Milton and loving it. Bryanne asked Karen how she could improve her vocabulary and grammar usage. That girl is so motivated it blows me away. I see why Chris likes her. Chris told me about a new project he is working on, and agreed to let me help him plan it and bid it. Tyler and Ellyn were their usual hysterical and charming selves, and Patrick was able to regale us as he bantered with Kat about Jansenism, whatever that is. All in all, it was a terrific Sunday lunch.

We had a Sunday Night Praise meeting at Billy & Anita's house, and it was the best one by far. This little church is learrning how to love one another. Afterward's I came home and made my Red Bean Soup, which we'll have for dinner tonight. In fact, it is time fior me to head in that direction - I'm bushed.

Saturday, February 8

I just read this line in my accounting textbook:

...some issues may be resolved by reference to the application of general priniciples rather than the generation of further rules. (Accounting, an Introduction )

These words are as true for law in general as they are for accounting practice. The United States legal code is so monstrously huge, it is a safe bet that nearly anyone is alive, ever was alive, or ever will be alive is a lawbreaker in some way. And why this sad state of affairs?

We have no idea what the general principles of law should be.

Therefore, we just crank out one rule after another, with the certainty that One Big Law, the Law of Unintended Consequences, will always kick in and kick some poor shmuck in the teeth.

I have much more to say on this, but I'm behind in my studies...

Thursday, February 6

I didn't write the following, but I wish I did. You can complain to me if you don't like it, or blast the author, Judson Heartsill. Either way, this piece rocks.

War is on my mind.

I am a Christian, but I am not a pacifist. I am a dual citizen of the kingdom of God and the United States of America. In the kingdom, I've been naturalized. In the U.S., it's more like a green card.

What am I talking about? In practical terms, this means that, should the U.S. disappear overnight, I must be just as happy and content with my life as I am now. In fact, I am commanded to be just as happy. Such a perspective may seem bizarre to some, but to me it makes all the sense in the world.

This is not to say that I don't love the United States. I love it very much. My birth here, what some would call a lucky accident, is actually a colossal example of God's grace. The same goes for my being born to loving parents, being born into safety, meeting a perfect wife, and having a perfect child. None of these were based on my goodness-- they were all freely given gifts. Left to myself I would have done much, much worse.

That's why I am not a pacifist. I believe that some things are worth fighting for.

I know lots of Christians who are pacifists. In fact, Christianity in general almost seems split between pacifists and non-pacifists. I think the pacifists are zealous lovers of peace, and I share that with them.

The pacifists believe in common grace, like me. Unlike me, they believe it is better to let these things be destroyed, perhaps while protesting nonviolently. They believe this because they value their kingdom citizenship more than their U.S. citizenship-- just like me. They say it is more important to stoically endure evil, because Jesus did. They say that to fight for these common graces is to idolize them over Jesus.

Interestingly, some of these actually accuse me of wanting to fight for religion, since I talk about things like "common grace". In fact, my religion-- Jesus Christ-- is the only grace for which I absolutely, positively refuse to fight for with the sword! I use an entirely different sword for that. (That sword curiously resembles a book).

The pacifists I admire most are those whose souls are just too gentle to contemplate violence for any reason. I disagree with them but I admire their intense desire for peace. I think some of them need to read some more of Jesus's own words about what he, himself, meant, and what his self-proclaimed mission on earth was.

The pacifists I respect the most are those who remind me of the dangers of worshipping mammon. They help drive into my skull exactly how depraved our country really is, and how deluded we sometimes are. It is in part due to their warnings that, so far, I have managed to avoid falling completely headlong into these pits. I am always dangerously close, and it is terrifying to me-- much more so than a collapsing skyscraper.

When I was a teenager searching for my vocation, I first thought I wanted to be an active duty fighting man. Then I discovered disciplines and trades which I loved more, and followed those instead. My military desire did not go away, however. I decided to become a reservist.

I am a Navy man, a fighting man of the United States of America. If war comes, I may have to go and serve. My expertise is not with missiles, radios, or cannons. I know how to drive big ships. If my country needs me, I will probably be placed in service on commercial vessels, because the Navy needs officers to liason with civilian shipping.

Those ships don't have guns. Tactically, they are sitting ducks. In the open water they are defenseless. If a carrier group is nearby it's a different story, but the fact remains that the sailors on materiel ships have absolutely no illusions about their defense capability.

Nevertheless, I am not a hero, and I don't really know much at all about how to conduct sea warfare. That's the point, and that's why the Navy needs me. For almost all intents and purposes, I'm a civilian who has simply volunteered to be very much in harm's way, if necessary.

In the few days after 9-11, I entered what was probably the biggest depression of my life. Generally I am a happy guy. With all the wonderful people in my life, how could I not be? But my mood was positively, evilly black for weeks. You liberals of the marxist of nihilist variety: don't you dare preach to me for a second about "not letting them get to you" or "not sinking to their level". The fact is, their level is hell, and for a while I was right there. And I'm not about to apologize for being depressed or sad on the account of mass murder. If you weren't in hell too, then shut the fuck up.

For a while, I thought my depression was due to the possibility of a military call-up. My wife was pregnant with our first son. I dwelt on the blackest possibilities.

I slowly began to realize that my depression wasn't because I might be taken from my family, or because I might have to fight. It was because of the immense wrongness of the murders. The sheer willfull massacre clouded my heart and withered my mind.

So what of leaving my family, maybe never to come back? It did make me sad. But not depressed. What pierced me was the knowledge that they could be murdered like those in New York. What drove me further to despair was the knowledge that the murderers would love to kill them. To them, my pregnant wife was evil, and the only way that true righteousness could possibly flourish would be through her death.

Current events have got us all talking about heroes. To me, the Columbia astronauts were the truest heroes. They are the talented ones which I mentioned. They are incredible men and women, pilots and doctors, brimming with skill and determination, and standing on the shoulders of giants. They show us a glimpse of the good side of the world, the side away from evil, the side of imagination and triumph.

I am not one. I am a relatively immature, self-centered man who happens to be surrounded by huge amounts of grace. I am rough, not tough, as evidence by my language above. I haven't learned how to be graciously angry yet. (FYI- rough bad, tough good). But it occurs to me that the most important reason heroes exist is because they are necessary for the survival of hope and love and the human race. If we didn't need those things, we wouldn't need heroes. So, talented people work and train to become heroes. Ordinary people, like me, sometimes rise up and, through lots of agonizing, try to be as heroic as possible in order to save what they love.

Jesus of Nazareth claimed that he came in order to pay for the evil in human hearts. He told his comrades "A man can have no greater love than this-- that he lay down his life for his friends".

He said this right before he became a hero. His job was to make his friends free forever. Everybody wants to imitate him, or at least to imitate what they think he did. Nobody can do exactly what he did, I promise you. To a citizen-soldier like me, the best way to make my friends free is to prevent them from being murdered. This statement says a lot about who my friends are. They not only include my wife and child, but a whole lot of Iraqi people. In fact, they include every human on the planet who doesn't want to be murdered.

However, I didn't make myself a friend of those people. Someone else did, and I do not have a right to cut off those ties.

The murderers have it all wrong. True righteousness cannot flourish through my wife's death, or my son's death. It can only flourish through one man's death. The good news is, he already died. Think that's good? It only gets better.l

Tuesday, February 4

Dear Tyler & Ellyn,

This morning when I asked you two about your thoughts regarding the Columbia disaster, you said, "I don't see why they were called 'heroes'." I understand why you feel that way, and I wanted to take a few moments to talk about it.

Back when I was a kid, the United States of America was a different country. There are many, many things that have changed, too many to tell you about here, but one of the ways it was different is this -

No country had ever put a man on the moon.

I remember the day Apollo 1 exploded on the launch pad and killed three astronauts. I remember when Apollo 8 was launched and orbited the moon for the very first time. And I will never forget that night in July 1969 when my parents woke me up in the middle of a good sleep to listen to the broadcast of the very first landing. The words "The Eagle has landed" have an emotional impact on me today that cannot be overstated. We did it. The US put a man on the moon before 1970.

The next day, Neil Armstrong got out of the Lunar Module, climbed down the ladder, and actually walked on the moon. Little kids would never again look at a virgin moon - man had conquered it.

But that conquest came at a tremendous price. It required the combined, coordinated efforts of thousands of people, millions of dollars, and untold personal sacrifices by the engineers, scientists, astronauts, and all who knew and loved them to make it happen. It was a conquest greater than any in the history of man. It absolutely dwarfed Columbus' discovery of the new world, Magellan circling the globe, or De Gama seeing the Pacific Ocean. All those men were explorers, and their daring, their courage, and their dedication opened up new frontiers for the rest of us.

It is just over 30 years since mankind walked on the moon. 30 years after Columbus discovered the New World was 1522. It would be nearly 100 years before Europeans gained a meaningful foothold on the new continent, but the initial exploration had been completed. Columbus had proved it was possible, even if it was incredibly difficult.

In the same vein, the astronauts and the entire space program have proved that space flight is possible, that landing on the moon is possible - even if it is still incredibly difficult and terribly risky.

In some ways, the space program is a victim of its own success. They have had so many successes and so few failures that we have come to believe that space flight is routine. That it is about as risky and complicated as hopping on plane and flying to London. But as we saw on Saturday, it is many orders of magnitude more risky. Every one of those astronauts knew that they could die when they strapped themselves onto the rocket three weeks ago, just as Columbus and his men knew they might never return to Spain. But they did it anyway. They considered the risk to be worth the reward.

So when we say that the astronauts are heroes, we mean they are people who are trail-blazers, people who incur great personal risk, people who will actually get very little personal payoff from the risks they take and who may in fact pay for their daring with their lives, but people without whom all of humanity would be infinitely poorer.

Hope that helps you to understand.