Choosing ‘The Chosen’

By Christopher Harper

The Chosen, which ended its second season last week, provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of Jesus Christ and the apostles.

When someone talks about a saint, I usually think of a holy person without flaws. The Chosen depicts the lives of primarily ordinary men and women who were called to follow Christ, mainly because of their flaws.

The show’s creator, Dallas Jenkins, has a degree in Biblical studies and has a team of scholars to ensure the accuracy of the stories. The scriptwriters took the gospel accounts and added plausible details about the lives of the figures found there. They added backstories to well-known characters and fleshed out other characters who might receive only a passing mention in Scripture.

Simon Peter is sometimes a hothead who tried to outfox the Roman authorities. His brother Andrew seems to be a good man who often is unsure of himself.

John and James, the other fishermen, are tried and true but often prone to anger. That’s why they are called the “sons of thunder.”

Matthew is the odd man out of Christ’s followers, a tax collector hated by almost everyone. He is by far the most intelligent, but The Chosen portrays him like someone with a Asperger’s disease or autism. Nevertheless, he becomes quite close to Christ because of his ability to write down the Messiah’s actions and words for what would become one of the four gospels.

Thomas is the consummate doubter—a good man who has his doubts up until the end.

Phillip is a follower of John the Baptist, who provides a rational balance and is sometimes the arbitrator of disagreements among the apostles.

Simon the Zealot once served in a group of militant Jews bent on ridding the Holy Land of the Romans.

James the Lesser, Bartholomew, and Thaddeus haven’t significantly been featured in the first two seasons, but it’s likely that they will play greater roles over the next five seasons that are planned.

At the end of Season Two, Judas Iscariot becomes a follower of Jesus Christ. He’s described as a man who is an orphan and a poet. He’s a real estate wheeler-dealer who helped the apostles rent the land on which the Sermon on the Mount took place.

But there are many other interesting followers of Christ, including Mary Magdalene. She’s a prostitute who came to follow Jesus because he cast out her demons with the simple touch of His hand. The Blessed Virgin also travels with Christ during his trips throughout the Middle East, making sense because she is now a widow and has little money to provide for herself.

One engaging figure is Nicodemus, a Jewish rabbi and powerful leader considered a saint in some Christian religions. He decides that Jesus is the Messiah, but he is conflicted about stating in public what he believes because of his position in Jerusalem.

All told, The Chosen provides a fascinating backstory of Christ’s apostles and other followers.

Although the series can be challenging to find because it doesn’t appear on Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon, try https://watch.angelstudios.com/thechosen.

It’s definitely worth a watch, even if you aren’t sure about your personal beliefs.

History and critical race theory

By Christopher Harper

Amid the debate over teaching critical race theory or CRT, I decided to search for how a K-12 curriculum would look.

I found a website for Learning for Justice, an organization founded by the Southern Poverty Law Center. See https://www.learningforjustice.org/

Many people should recognize the law center as a leader in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The organization maintains that more than 500,000 individuals access the teaching materials on a continuing basis. 

Under “A Framework for Teaching American Slavery,” Learning for Justice argues that “most students leave high school without an adequate understanding of the role slavery played in the development of the United States—or how its legacies still influence us today. In an effort to remedy this, we developed a comprehensive guide for teaching and learning this critical topic at all grade levels.” Note: I would argue that most students leave high school without an adequate understanding of anything to do with U.S. history.

The “Teaching Hard History” curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade includes 10 basic tenets:

1. Slavery, which Europeans practiced before they invaded the Americas, was important to all colonial powers and existed in all North American colonies. Note: Many Black African countries also engaged in slavery–as did the many empires, such as the Romans.

2. Slavery and the slave trade were central to the development and growth of the colonial economies and what is now the United States. Note: Not all colonial economies depended on slaves.

3. Protections for slavery were embedded in the founding documents; enslavers dominated the federal government, Supreme Court, and Senate from 1787 through 1860. Note: There was a lot of other good stuff in the founding documents.

4. Slavery was an institution of power designed to create profit for the enslavers and break the will of the enslaved and was a relentless quest for profit abetted by racism. Note: I wouldn’t disagree with this statement.

5. Enslaved people resisted the efforts of their enslavers to reduce them to commodities in both revolutionary and everyday ways. Note: I learned about John Brown in the 1960s in high school. I assume his rebellion and others are still taught in schools.

6. The experience of slavery varied depending on time, location, crop, labor performed, size of slaveholding, and gender. Note: I couldn’t disagree with this statement, although I’m not sure what exactly it means in terms of a school curriculum.

7. Slavery was the central cause of the Civil War. Note: I would hope that all students, like me in the 1960s, learns this truism.

8. Slavery shaped the fundamental beliefs of Americans about race and whiteness, and white supremacy was both a product and legacy of slavery. Note: I would call this statement a gross generalization.

9. Enslaved and freed people worked to maintain cultural traditions while building new ones that sustain communities and impact the larger world. Note: I don’t know, but it’s probably true.

10. By knowing how to read and interpret the sources that tell the story of American slavery, we gain insight into some of what enslaving and enslaved Americans aspired to, created, thought, and desired. Note: It would seem better to address current issues than these historical ones.

The organization provides various materials, including lesson plans, videos, podcasts, and consultations with critical race theory proponents, to teach students about these issues. 

Education Week, which broadly supports critical race theory in schools, provides some background about the debate over the inclusion of CRT into schools.  

“Critical race theory emerged out of postmodernist thought, which tends to be skeptical of the idea of universal values, objective knowledge, individual merit, Enlightenment rationalism, and liberalism—tenets that conservatives tend to hold dear,” EdWeek’s Stephen Sawchuk wrote recently. “In history, the debates have focused on the balance among patriotism and American exceptionalism, on one hand, and the country’s history of exclusion and violence towards Indigenous people and the enslavement of African Americans on the other—between its ideals and its practices.” See https://www.edweek.org/leadership/what-is-critical-race-theory-and-why-is-it-under-attack/2021/05

That seems to me to be a fair assessment of precisely what the debate is about. I would fall on the side of promoting universal values, objective knowledge, and individual merit. I’m not so sure about Enlightenment rationalism and liberalism. I would hope the first set of values are not only held by conservatives.

Biden’s debacle in Afghanistan

By Christopher Harper

The Biden administration’s pullout of the U.S. military from Afghanistan is deployable and disheartening.

After 20 years in the country, the United States left Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield by shutting off the electricity and slipping away in the night without notifying the base’s new Afghan commander, the Associated Press reported.

“We (heard) some rumor that the Americans had left Bagram … and finally by seven o’clock in the morning, we understood that it was confirmed that they had already left Bagram,” Gen. Mir Asadullah Kohistani, Bagram’s new commander, told the AP.

Before the Afghan army could take control of the airfield, which lies about an hour’s drive from the Afghan capital of Kabul, it was invaded by a small army of looters, who ransacked barrack after barrack and rummaged through giant storage tents before being evicted, according to local military officials.

The sprawling air base was at the center of America’s war to unseat the Taliban and hunt down the al-Qaida planners of the 9/11 attacks on America.

Used by the U.S. and NATO forces, Bagram includes two runways and more than 100 parking slots for fighter jets known as revetments because of the blast walls that protect each aircraft. The base also consists of a prison with about 5,000 prisoners, many of them from the Taliban.

The U.S. forces reportedly left behind thousands of civilian vehicles, many of them without keys to start them. The departing troops took heavy weapons and blew up ammunition on the base.

The military did leave tens of thousands of bottles of water, energy drinks, and military ready-made meals, known as MREs, which will prove of little use in the fight against the Taliban.

The AP spoke with Afghan soldiers at the base that had once seen as many as 100,000 U.S. troops. The Afghans criticized how the United States left Bagram, escaping in the night without telling the Afghan soldiers who patrol the perimeter.

“In one night, they lost all the goodwill of 20 years by leaving the way they did, in the night, without telling the Afghan soldiers who were outside patrolling the area,” said one Afghan soldier.

Biden plans to pull out all U.S. troops by August, leaving a vacuum that will almost certainly lead to the Taliban taking power once again.

In northern Afghanistan, for example, district after district has fallen to the Taliban, and most analysts think the group will retake the country.
Although I concede that the United States stayed too long in Afghanistan, the departure of troops under the cover of darkness sends a clear signal to allies that the United States can no longer be trusted.

Hypocrisy on the Fourth

By Christopher Harper

The Biden battle to prevent a July 4th celebration at Mount Rushmore is yet another example of the disingenuous notion that this president intends to bring the nation together. 

Instead, Joe Biden and his cronies want to divide and conquer.

In an eloquent response to Biden’s crew, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem examines the hypocrisy of Biden’s arguments.

“There is no better place than Mount Rushmore to celebrate America’s birthday. Independence Day is the celebration of our nation and our founding principles of freedom, equality, and opportunity. Thomas Jefferson wrote the beautiful document that declared the United States of America free and independent. George Washington’s leadership in the American Revolution ensured that our independence was established and protected,” Noem wrote in  The National Review.

Point One: The Biden administration argues that the pandemic should preclude a fireworks celebration. But South Dakota’s COVID cases are the lowest they’ve been in 14 months. Moreover, there were no cases from last year’s event.

Point Two: The administration argues that there were environmental concerns with holding the event. But the National Park Service determined that no significant impact occurred from last year’s celebration.

Point Three: The administration points maintains that certain Native American tribes opposed the event. But Noem said she and others consulted with them before last year’s celebration and included programming to celebrate Native American heritage.

A federal district court judge recently sided with the Biden administration, but Noem promised to continue the legal battle.

As Noem puts it, the cancellation is simply another example of the Democrat tilt to the far left. “They wish to cancel the great men on that mountain who accomplished so much to make America the most special nation in history. It’s but their latest attack on American history and our founding principles.”

I’ve spent a lot of time in the state. In fact, I graduated from high school in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I couldn’t agree more with the governor!  

A good man gone too soon

By Christopher Harper 

I lost a former colleague and good friend last week. 

Jim Sicile worked as a cameraman for many news outlets, particularly ABC, covering many of the most significant national and international events over the past 30 years. See https://www.yahoo.com/gma/abc-news-photographer-jim-sicile-175104719.html 

Jim started in the ABC News mailroom at the age of 18 and worked his way up to become a well-respected cameraman. He covered everything from the World Trade Center attacks and Hurricane Katrina to the Haiti earthquake and the Olympics. He interviewed world leaders and covered every president from Nixon to Biden, which was his final assignment that stopped abruptly because of illness. 

Jim was compassionate. At his funeral, ABC news anchor John Quinones recalled how Jim called one time about an ethical question. Jim had interviewed a man who had lost his job and his home because of the pandemic. Jim took some cash out of his wallet and handed the man the money. 

A bit later, Jim called Quinones to ensure he hadn’t violated some network rule to give the man the cash.  

I worked with Jim for nearly a decade at 20/20. In fact, he was there for my first segment for the broadcast in 1986. The shoot had been complicated, involving a helicopter, a speedboat, and an ill reporter. 

In the end, Jim, a bona fide foodie, remarked on only one facet of the seven-day extravaganza. He loved the huevos rancheros at a nearby San Diego diner! 

His taste buds became renowned. For example, he created a line of hot pepper sauces. Moreover, the prayer card at Jim’s funeral included a background of his famed peppers.

His family organized a bevy of food trucks from jerk barbeque to crepes for a “celebration of his life” after the funeral. A rock ‘n’ roll band played Jim’s favorites from Elton John and Billy Joel.  

But there’s also a maddening part of Jim’s death. During the pandemic, his doctors focused on COVID-19 and misdiagnosed his illness. During several conversations with Jim, an incredibly patient man, he told me about his frustration with his doctors.  

It turned out that Jim, who had never smoked, did not have COVID. Instead, he had lung cancer. It is unclear whether the several months of misdiagnosis would have made any difference, but I bet it would have given Jim some more time.  

Before he died, Jim told his family and friends: “People say I am stronger than the cancer. The cancer didn’t take my sense of humor from me, I am still a good husband and a good father and friend. In those ways, yes, I am stronger. The cancer did not win.”

At 66, a good man was gone much too soon!  

Leave Mother Nature alone

By Christopher Harper

I don’t claim to be a climate expert, but a recent trip to what’s known as the Pennsylvania Wilds demonstrates how Mother Nature does a pretty good job of taking care of herself.

In the rolling hills and valleys of north-central Pennsylvania sits Pine Creek Gorge, known as The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. See https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/LeonardHarrisonStatePark/Pages/default.aspx

A friend who has traveled throughout the world said as she looked over the landscape: “That’s a wow!”

Indeed, it is.

According to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, an estimated 90 percent, or 31,000 square miles of the state, was covered with forests before William Penn and his fellow Quakers settled the state. By the American Revolution, lumber became one of the leading industries in Pennsylvania. Trees were used to furnish fuel to heat homes, wood for construction, furniture, and barrel making. Rifle stocks and shingles were made from Pennsylvania timber, as were a wide variety of household utensils and the first Conestoga wagons.

By the mid-19th century, up to 20 million board feet of timber floated from the area to the West Branch Susquehanna River and to sawmills near Williamsport, a few miles from my new home. At the time, Williamsport boasted the highest number of millionaires per capita in the country.

But the timber barons cut down too much lumber and did not replenish what they had harvested. On May 6, 1903, a local newspaper ran the headline “Wild Lands Aflame” and reported landslides throughout the gorge. The soil was depleted of nutrients, and it became known as the “Pennsylvania Desert.” Much of the wildlife died or left the area.

Fast forward to today. Left to its own devices, Mother Nature has replenished the forests, renewed the land, and wildlife has returned.

The area is part of a state forest, but nature, not humans, did the bulk of the work.

As I said, I’m not an expert. But could you examine if you had all of today’s climate doomsayers trying to intervene in reviving the forestland? I’d rather leave the work to Mother Nature and God!

Make this Memorial Day personal

Newspaper from the Battle for Crete in World War 2

History is best learned in person. While I was temporarily stationed on Crete in support of the ongoing conflict in Libya, I had a chance to visit a local museum that featured Cretan history from ancient times to the present. There was a large room devoted to the Battle of Crete, where the forces of Nazi Germany first fought a naval engagement, and then invaded Crete in one of the largest parachute drops in history. While Germany did successfully invade, it came at a great cost, and the Germans were hesitant to use parachute tactics in the future.

The newspaper above has a few interesting titles. First, its a good reminder that things weren’t all that certain in 1941 in Europe. Losing Crete, and followed by a massive German invasion of Russia soon after, left Europe’s position pretty uncertain. It’s easy to read history now and say “Well, its obvious the US would prevail,” but at the time it wasn’t so certain. I also had to smile at the “Capture of Fallujah” headline, since Fallujah continues to be as important back then as it is in modern times.

Walking in the nearby cemetery I found graves from both Allied and Axis powers. The graves are simple. I don’t recognize any of the names. I know the facts of the battles they fought in, but the actual people, outside of a few significant generals and admirals, are unknown to me.

I suspect that this is the same feeling many Americans get walking through Arlington National Cemetery. Sure, if you have a loved one buried there, its a different feeling. But most people don’t, and during Memorial Day, its hard to know what we’re supposed to feel about the graves we walk by. Sad? Respectful? Mournful?

I think the reason its difficult is because we’re taught history from an events perspective, especially for wars. These groups of people, using these weapons, fought over this place on a map, and this group won. But the truth is that each of those people that fought have a back story. A loved one at home. A family that misses them. They are fighting for many different reasons. Maybe they were drafted, or maybe they enlisted because they really believe in their country. Maybe they joined to climb further in the ranks, or maybe this is a one-and-done enlistment.

When we get the chance to hear these personal stories, they stick with us. You can’t read the book Unbroken (or watch the movie) and not be moved by it. Same goes for stories like Hacksaw Ridge or even Black Hawk Down. It’s easy to gloss over history in a cold, calculating way when its presented as figures, numbers, and geography, but its a lot harder when we hear about the individual people behind the battles. We identify with people.

So this Memorial Day, I encourage people that often struggle with “How am I supposed to react” to take the time to learn one story. Learn about the in-depth story of someone that gave their life for their country. Talk to a veteran about someone they knew that died fighting for their country. Make that individual connection. Don’t get too worried about the big picture stuff, instead, focus on one individual story. That will make it much more personal and meaningful.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

The true meaning of Memorial Day

By Christopher Harper

In many small towns throughout America, Memorial Day is special.

Almost everyone knows someone who served in the military; most know someone who died.

Here in Muncy, Pennsylvania, two memorials stand out.

A few years ago, the town and the state recognized two fallen soldiers by naming bridges after them.

Army Pvt. Walter L. Smith, who served in the Spanish-American War, and U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. William F. Merrill, a Vietnam War veteran, died in service to their country.

The war against Spain was declared in April 1898 after the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor. On May 12, 1898, Smith enlisted at Williamsport and was mustered into service as a private in Co. D, 12th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, According to historical documents found by his family, Smith met his fate while on a supply patrol with a small detachment in the Philippines on July 28, 1901. “[He] bravely and selflessly defended men in his company against an overwhelming attack by some 60 native insurgents. During the battle, Smith’s sergeant, the only other armed man, was shot and killed. Fighting alone, Smith saved the lives of two unarmed soldiers but was overpowered, captured, and taken prisoner,” according to the local newspaper.

While his remains never were recovered, in 2006, family members honored his service by placing a government-issued memorial headstone in the Smith family plot at Muncy Cemetery.

Merrill was with the 1st Marines during Operation Oklahoma Hills, an operation to clear out the enemy from their base camps and infiltration routes southwest of Da Nang, Vietnam.

On Nov. 26, 1969, Merrill and nine fellow Marines came to a ravine. The first to cross hit a wire attached to a booby trap, and he called out for Merrill, who guarded the device as the rest of the Marines went around it. As Merrill and his sergeant were standing at the device, the explosive detonated, killing Merrill and fatally wounding the other man. Merrill’s body was returned home to his family for interment at Boalsburg Cemetery.

“These were two sons of Muncy who went off to do their duties – like many sons of Muncy – but were unfortunately never able to come home.”State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, a former U.S. Air Force member, said at the bridge dedication ceremony.

The service of Smith and Merrill in two distant wars underlines the true meaning of Memorial Day.

A sad but inspirational story about Catholic nuns

By Christopher Harper

It’s wonderful to have a local newspaper that offers news that comforts the soul rather than slants the news.

Since moving to central Pennsylvania, I have become a fan of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, which operates a few miles from our home.

The Sun-Gazette has a staunchly conservative editorial policy, which I relish as a change from the claptrap of most news organizations that surrounded me in the Northeast Corridor. Moreover, the local reporting offers some great insights into the surrounding community. The newspaper is one of the oldest in the country. Once owned by a local family, the Sun-Gazette is part of Odgen Newspapers, a small media company based in Wheeling, West Virginia.

Recently, the newspaper focused on a virtually untold story about the deaths of many Catholic nuns throughout the region. See https://www.sungazette.com/news/religion/2021/04/how-many-of-us-will-be-left-catholic-nuns-face-loss-pain/

“These were women who held the hands of the dying and who raised the unwanted, who pushed chalk to slate to teach science and grammar and, through their own example, faith. And when the worst year was over, the toll on the Felician Sisters was almost too much to bear: 21 of their own, in four U.S. convents, who collectively served 1,413 years, all felled by the virus,” the story reported.

“On Good Friday [2020], Sister Mary Luiza Wawrzyniak became the sisters’ first casualty in Livonia, a blow that landed with stunning intensity for the women who’d known her for decades.

‘My heart just leaped,’ said Sister Nancy Marie Jamroz, 79, who had known Wawrzyniak since entering the convent and was one of her closest friends.’She was my little buddy.’

“Wawrzyniak’s teaching days were ended by multiple sclerosis, but she continued contributing any way she could, shuffling behind a wheelchair to work in the laundry room and remembering every birthday with a card.

“On Easter Sunday, it was Sister Celine Marie Lesinski, a teacher, organist, and librarian, and Sister Mary Estelle Printz, who put aside an early life working at Chrysler to take her vows. Then, Sister Thomas Marie Wadowski, who relished a game of canasta and telling of her second-grade class that won a contest to create a Campbell’s Soup commercial, and Sister Mary Patricia Pyszynski, who taught in 13 schools across Michigan in six decades as an educator….

“After the first week of the crisis claimed five sisters, the second week took five more.

“Sister Mary Clarence Borkoski, whose long ministry included work in a food pantry. Sister Rose Mary Wolak, whose two stints working in the Vatican brought brushes with St. John Paul II. Sister Mary Janice Zolkowski, who wrote a definitive 586-page history of the Felicians. Sister Mary Alice Ann Gradowski, who as a principal could be seen cheering, with fierce loyalty, in the bleachers at basketball games. And Sister Victoria Marie Indyk, who led mission trips to Haiti where she insisted students fill their luggage with clothes and medicine and toys going to the hemisphere’s neediest.

“The second wave haunted and taunted with erratic efficiency, and by the middle of November had robbed the Felicians of sisters in Buffalo, New York; Enfield, Connecticut; and here in Greensburg.

“Sister Mary Christinette Lojewski, the educator with a disarming smile. Sister Mary Seraphine Liskiewicz, whose faith persevered even as her health waned. Sister Mary Michele Mazur, the keen-eyed artist who gave succor to orphans. Sister Christine Marie Nizialek, who’d bounced back from losing an eye and receiving a new kidney but could not come back from this.”

The nuns mourned, consoled one another, and prayed. This disease had taken an enormous toll. But their faith persisted.

Thanks to the Sun-Gazette for a sad but inspirational story—a story that virtually no other media outlet has deigned to cover!

Going up the country

By Christopher Harper

After living in Philadelphia for the past 15 years, it’s difficult for me not to look at the news there.

Unfortunately, almost all of the news is bad!

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ annual State of the City report, Philadelphia’s average unemployment rate last year trailed only Detroit and Cleveland among 10 major U.S. cities. 

Philadelphia’s average unemployment rate of 12.2% was more than four points above the U.S. average, compared with a difference of less than two points in 2019.

The jobless statistics suggest that Philadelphia faces a more challenging economic situation than similar cities. Washington, for example, had slightly higher unemployment than Philadelphia before the pandemic. But the nation’s capital saw its average jobless rate increase just 2.4 percentage points last year, while Philadelphia’s increased by seven points.

Pew did not explain why Philadelphia fared worse than other cities. But it noted the sectors that helped fuel the city’s resurgence during the last decade — hospitality, restaurants, and arts and culture — shut down early in the pandemic. Philadelphia also faces high poverty rates, lower educational attainment, and other issues.

But there’s more bad news.

The murder rate is headed for an all-time high after reaching the second-highest level in the city’s history only last year when 499 people died.

Another Pew study found that the pandemic hit Philadelphians hard in ways that affect their jobs, economic security, and mental and physical health. See https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2020/10/how-covid-19-has-undercut-philadelphians-physical-and-financial-well-being

After the deaths of civilians at the hands of police and the resulting civil unrest, Philadelphia residents said they feel less safe in their neighborhoods than at any other time in recent memory. 

Only 49% of Philadelphians say they feel safe outside in their neighborhoods at night, the lowest figure Pew has recorded in more than a decade of polling. Typically, the percentage has been in the 55% to 60% range. Blacks and Hispanics said they are less likely to say they feel safe than in past surveys.

More than 40% of Philadelphians say that events related to the pandemic and the demonstrations have made the city a less desirable place to live. Amazingly, about two-thirds of the population said they expect to be living in the city five to 10 years from now. 

Maybe they feel trapped by family or a job. Whatever the case, I feel fortunate that my wife and I could get out of Dodge!