Loving and Liking

Arthur Flemming had the distinction of serving every President from Coolidge to Clinton. He was, among other things, a member of the Hoover Commission, Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare under Eisenhower, and head of the Department of Aging under Nixon and Carter.

Before entering public service, Arthur briefly considered going to divinity school. He remained devoutly religious all of his life. For 65 of his 92 years, he attended Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, DC, taught Sunday school during the first service and sat in the same place, at the end of the fourth pew from the back, for the second service, every Sunday he was in town.

During the week, Arthur had a standing reservation for lunch at Twigs, a restaurant near his office. Arthur held court there, entertaining a revolving cast of regulars and a seemingly endless supply of new friends.

At least once a month while he lived, I found myself worked into the rotation. I would receive a call from Arthur’s secretary inviting me to join him for lunch, sometimes that same day, sometimes a couple of weeks in advance. I rarely knew Arthur’s agenda, but I never turned down an invitation.

We talked about health care reform. We talked about aging. We talked politics. We talked religion. We talked about life.

On one of these occasions, Arthur began a discourse on applied Christianity. He said the most difficult theological question for him to understand and apply was the notion of loving your neighbor.

With a wry smile, he said, “As you have undoubtedly noticed there are a lot of disagreeable people in the world.  Some of our neighbors are very difficult to like.”

Arthur found the solution to his dilemma in a sermon he heard in England during World War II – a time when the consequences of loving, as well as not loving, our neighbors were abundantly evident.

The answer, Arthur said, lies in the difference between “loving” and “liking” and the reason we do one or the other or both.

“It’s helpful to remember there is no commandment to like our neighbors,” Arthur said.

In choosing to love the neighbors we do not like, we separate who we are from what we do. We can love the essence of an individual without liking the choices they have made or the way they live their lives.  We can see God in each other without expecting everyone we meet to behave as we behave and look like what we see in the mirror.

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The Story Within the Story

The story of Bob Macauley and Operation Babylift is the stuff of legends but there is a part of the story that’s rarely told.

It begins on April 4, 1975, near the end of the Vietnamese war.  A C5A Galaxy cargo plane takes off from Saigon with 243 orphans on board. Forty miles out of Saigon, an explosion blows off the rear door. The flight controls are crippled. Decompression fills the plane with fog and debris.

Somehow, the pilots manage to turn the plane around and head back to Saigon. The damaged plane crashes two miles from Tan Son Nhut airport. It skids a thousand feet, bounces up in the air, hits a dike half a mile away, and shatters into a hundred pieces.

Half of the children on board are killed immediately. Many of the survivors are critically injured. They are desperately in need of medical attention.

Half a world away in Virginia, a private citizen, Bob Macauley, hears about the tragedy. He is shaken by the loss of so many young lives and shocked to learn the military will not be able to rescue the survivors for ten days.

Bob cannot stand by and wait that long.  “Many would have died,” he says.

For Macaluey, that thought is unbearable. He considers his options and decides to roll the dice.  His solution is risky and might blow up in his face, but he knows it is the only way he can help.

Bob begins by contacting the airlines looking for a plane he can charter.  Never mind it’s never been done before. Never mind he would be sending a commercial plane into a war zone. Never mind his business is running in the red, struggling to stay afloat, and desperately needs all his attention.  Some things are more important than others. He hears the children cry in his heart.  He has to do something.

Finally, Pan Am agrees to take a plane in the Philippines out of service and send it to Saigon.  They want a quarter of a million dollars, ten percent down.  Bob is quick to agree and sends them a bum check for the deposit.  Two days later when the plane has landed, Pan Am comes looking for their money.  By then, Bob has mortgaged his house to cover the debt.

Bob’s wife, Leila, remembers hearing about it when the TV crews show up at her front door asking if they can take pictures.

“What’s this about the house?” she asks Bob when he gets home.

Overshadowed by this act of human solidarity and embed in it is the story of the Carnie twins – dubbed “Hansel and Gretel” by a German nurse who cared for them the orphanage.

On the date of the fatal flight, infants filled the center of the plane. They had been loaded on the C5A in two-foot-square cardboard boxes. Each box contained a precious cargo of two or three infants. Toddlers, like the Carnie twins, were strapped to hard aluminum benches on each side of the aircraft.

In the rush of departure, the twins had been loaded onto different parts of the plane. After the plane went down, neither could be found. The initial report was that both had perished.

But somehow they had not only survived, they had found each other. Rescuers stumbled on them clinging together in a rice paddy more than a hundred yards from the crash site.

On a level we cannot define, Hansel and Gretel knew they needed each other.  On the same level, for the same reason, Bob Macauley felt he had to rescue a hundred children he had never met and would never know.

What Bob and these children intuitively knew and we must come to learn – particularly at contentious times like these – is that we need each other.  Humanity is indivisible.  All of our lives are intertwined and wrapped around each other.  The contribution others have made to our lives is reflected in all we think and do.  So tightly knitted are our lives that there would be little left of any of us if we were to discard what we owe to others.

It is for this reason that the world rarely makes sense from a personal point of view.  There is no adequate explanation in personal terms for the differences between us.  Why do some have so much and others so little?  Why must some struggle when others have lives of such ease?  Why are some so blessed and others so challenged?

The world only makes sense with detachment and distance. From a distance, we can see how the pieces fit.  With detachment, we see that what happens to one more often than not is for the benefit of another.

In the words of Luciano de Crescenzo, “We are each of us angels with only one wing; and can only fly while embracing each other.”

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God Weeps

There is a piece in each of us that is God’s piece. In some, that piece is nurtured and grows until it encompasses the sum of their being. In others, it diminishes with neglect and denial until it nearly disappears.

God’s piece is the part we call our humanity.  This is the piece that responds with care and compassion. This is the part that reaches out with kindness and concern. This is the part that weeps each time we choose comfort over concern.

God weeps when we see and do not act, hear and do not respond.

God weeps when we turn our backs, close our doors, and live apart.

God weeps at the way we offend nature.

God weeps at man’s inhumanity to man.

God weeps at our preoccupation with the material means to an end without considering the spiritual end for which the means were designed.

God weeps when we are unfaithful to Him and when we lose faith in ourselves.

God weeps at our arrogance, aggression, and indifference.

God weeps at our carelessness and apathy.

God weeps at every self-centered act that focuses on our needy grasping selves and every act of ego that takes us further away from Him.

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God Laughs

img_0281Max was a minister licensed to preach the gospel in California, a doctor, and a lawyer. He had a Ph. D., was a member of the International Platform Speaking Society, and was listed in several indices of prominent Americans.

He was also a dog.

While standing in a supermarket line one morning during my days at the Senate, I found myself struck by a tabloid advertisement I saw over the shoulder of the person in front of me. For a small amount of money and minimal effort, the ad promised, anyone could acquire an advanced degree.

The ad made it sound so easy I decided to respond and see what would happen. Since I already had several degrees, I used our dog’s name – B. B. Maxwell – instead.

I filled out the form and sent them a money order for $75. Two weeks later, Max received a diploma from a school in California certifying he was a Doctor of Divinity. There were also instructions on the tax advantages of setting up his own church.

This amused me enough that I started looking for more opportunities to extend Max’s pedigree. Before long, the project took on a life of its own. Max began receiving more mail than I did. He was receiving solicitations for everything from medicine to mail order brides.

Mixed in with all this a year or so after it all began came a letter from the American Biographical Index. They indicated they chronicled prominent Americans, said they had become aware of Max’s achievements, and invited him to apply.

I filled in the form for Max, listing his occupation as a security specialist and his age in months. The plaque came a month later. Along with it was an invitation to buy a memorial copy of the Index for $299.

That led to still further honors and invitations, increasingly mainstream. The invitation to join the International Platform Speakers Association, for example, came from the distinguished journalist, Lowell Thomas.

Mr. Thomas pointed out that every President going back to Teddy Roosevelt had belonged to the IPA. Malcom Forbes, Barbara Walters, Robert Novak, and Patrick Buchanan were among the prominent Americans listed as current members. Under the circumstances, it would have seemed impudent to decline.

But when I saw how seriously people who should have known better were taking Max’s phony degrees, the project took on a new dimension. It seemed reasonable to suppose that not everyone who answered these ads had a pet and shared my sense of humor.

On that assumption, we opened a formal Congressional investigation and began  systematically clipping and responding to questionable ads. The further we got into it, the more outrageous it became. Before long, it was clear the problem merited the attention of law enforcement agencies. We invited the U. S. Postal Service and the FBI to join us, conducting a sting called “Dipscam.”

The FBI found there were some 50,000 professionals operating in the United States with phony credentials. One diploma mill in Oregon, for example, had conferred 2,300 phony degrees to people who wanted to be doctors, chiropractors, psychiatrists and engineers. Another individual had sold 3,000 phony diplomas including 200 to Federal employees.

One of these people was an anesthesiologist at Fort Dix who failed to notice a patient’s heart had stopped during a routine operation. The patient suffered irreparable brain damage as a result.

Another of these individuals was masquerading as a surgeon in Nebraska. Not only had he not gone to Medical School, investigators later learned he had not even gone to college.

Ultimately, more than a dozen Congressional hearings spun out of this process. Businesses were closed. People were jailed. Laws were changed and Max became celebrated enough that John Stossel wanted to feature him on ABC’s 20/20.  Max modestly declined.

Many times through that period, I couldn’t help thinking of the irony of it all. All of these bright and greedy people, people who had managed to thumb their noses at the educational system and the medical establishment, people who had outsmarted the state regulators and licensing officials, people who had eluded the police and all formal means of detection for years, brought to account by a dog.

During the middle ages, fools and court jesters were kept in the master’s house to amuse and entertain. Max made me wonder if much of what happens here on earth has a similar purpose. If so, God must love to laugh.

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The Choice

images-3I have lived through Vietnam, Watergate, and the assassination of President Kennedy. I was working on Bobby Kennedy’s campaign when he was killed and was on the Capitol steps watching Washington go up in flames  the day after Martin Luther King was shot.

But I have never seen a time when so many people are so uneasy, concerned and afraid.

Viktor Frankl taught me the essence of life is choice, our responsibility.  He would break it up into two words – response ability. “Life questions each of us,” he would say. “We must respond.”

The questions I hear at the moment are clear and straightforward:

What are you going to do about it?

Do you want to add more love to the world or less?

Do you want to add more honesty to the world or less?

Do you want to add more forgiveness to the world or less?

Do you want to add more gratitude to the world or less?

Do you want to add more justice to the world or less?

Do you want to curse the darkness or be the light?


Each must answer as they will.

For my part:

I choose honesty.

I choose forgiveness.

I choose gratitude.

I choose justice.

I will fight fear.

I will not stand idly by.

I will be the light.

I choose love.

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