“The Mark” Comes to Life

It’s been many years since we saw a trilogy of films about the “mark of the beast,” named for the mark prophesied in Revelation 13:16-17.

As so often happens with apocalyptic versions of the future, the interpretations were a bit off base.

Add to that some of the alarmist predictions that swept through evangelical circles in the 1980s—including the idea that humans would never survive past the turn of the century—and it’s easy to see how many people got disillusioned or turned off to faith.

And yet, the recent news about a Wisconsin technology company implanting microchips in its employees is a fascinating development. Especially considering those long-ago predictions.

The Convenience Factor

The implant will allow them to wave their hand to open doors, log onto computers, or buy snacks at a vending machine.Nearly half the 85 employees of Three Square Market in River Falls agreed to be voluntarily “chipped” at a party at company headquarters.

The leading reason: convenience. The implant will allow them to wave their hand to open doors, log onto computers, or buy snacks at a vending machine.

It didn’t take long for some observers to note the biblical significance of the event. USA Today quickly noted the speculation it raised.

However, the newspaper it quoted a Wheaton College professor as saying it was more a fulfillment of end times novels and movies than Revelation.

Chris Vlachos said one key is taking the mark goes hand in hand with pledging one’s allegiance to the beast and worshiping his image: “No name, no worries.”

Others weren’t so sure. Ricky Bakker, son of evangelist Jim Bakker (whose image has been rehabilitated since the late 1980s), commented to Charisma’s news service that it seemed so casual.

“It’s convenient,” Bakker said. “I don’t want to have to carry my wallet around or I don’t want to have cash in my pocket, so I’ll just take a little microchip inside my hand. I’ll scan it, I’ll have my lunch for the day. . . . But what happens when we get to the point where our credit cards, Social Security numbers, every little detail about our lives is on this thing?”

Voluntary to Mandatory

“The Mark” Comes to Life | Ken Walker WriterWhile I agree with Vlachos that parts of Revelation are to be taken symbolically, I think it’s a short distance from a company microchipping volunteers to a world system demanding it.

Given the parallel technological developments that have accompanied the move away from cash and checks, it doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to envision the day when anyone who wants to transact business will need an implanted microchip.

It won’t seem sinister. Especially to those who have no regard for biblical prophecy.

Indeed, I can see people demanding this convenience and ridiculing and ostracizing those who refuse it. Just wait 20, 30 or 40 years.

Biblical Warnings

Given the chip party that is sure to be followed by others, it is worth recalling the relevant passages from Revelation, starting with 13:16-17: “He causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, so that no one may buy or sell, except he who has the mark or the name of the beast or the number of his name” (MEV).

The next chapter says, “A third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out in full strength into the cup of His anger. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb’” (Revelation 14:9-10).

Laugh at your own risk.

Disrespecting President Sign of Bigger Problems

President Donald Trump visited our town last week for a rally. I had only seen a president in person once before, going to Denver’s old Stapleton Airport to see Ronald Reagan during his second term. (In copies of photos I sent to friends, I joked that the small speck in several pictures was indeed the president.)

Although I momentarily contemplated going to Trump’s appearance for the sake of personal historical significance, several things held me back.

The first was the mob scene generated by a presidential visit. The city started closing streets around the civic arena at noon, and the parking garage nearest to the facility shut down three hours prior to the rally.

In addition, officials advised arriving early to get a good seat, which meant showing up several hours early—an unrealistic prospect on a working day.

However, what cinched my decision to forego the rally originated with the fact I had a prior commitment that evening, and I decided honoring it came first.

(Ironically, so many streets were blocked because of the president’s motorcade I wound up being an hour late to the meeting. Fortunately, everyone else was late too.)

Crossing Lines

Prior to the rally, we prayed that no violence would erupt and no incidents occur that would put a blemish on our city during its time in the national spotlight.

That concern was heightened by a threat—deemed not credible—by a Trump supporter to take revenge on the coterie of protesters who gathered nearby to air their grievances against the president.

Free speech is a guaranteed by the First Amendment, and as a free speech advocate, I have always supported unfettered expression of ideas, opinions and open dialogue.

And yet, in the maelstrom of public criticism that has raged against President Trump since last November, I fear that our society has crossed the line of rational thought and whipped itself into an irrational frenzy.

It is the kind of frenzy that led to June’s mass shooting of Republican congressional representatives at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., and could result in something worse.

Indeed, had anything serious happened to Trump here, I can imagine half the country would have been raising hearty cheers and dancing in the streets.

Praying for Leaders

I am quite aware of the intense criticism aimed at our president. My purpose is not to defend him or debate his policies, temperament, or fitness for office.

It’s to point out that the refusal to accept election results and constant carping against whoever is elected president has gone on for more than 35 years and is tiresome.

The reason this is such a problem is its reflection of a growing lack of awareness of biblical guidance and wisdom. Take such verses as:

  • Romans 13:1 and 7 (MEV): “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are appointed by God.

. . . Render to all what is due them: taxes to whom taxes are due, respect to whom respect is due, fear to whom fear is due, and honor to whom honor is due.”

  • Psalm 84:9: “Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of Your anointed.” I wrote in a previous blog (http://kenwalkerwriter.com/shooting-lays-bare-need-pray-leaders/) about our need to pray for our rulers and respect those God places in office.
  • Exodus 22:28: “You shall not curse God or curse the ruler of your people.”

Disrespecting Authority

Exchange “Trump” for “Obama,” “Bush” or “Clinton” and it’s the same: vitriol, hatred and disrespect on a national scale for the person serving in the nation’s highest office.

Underlying this is a spirit of contentiousness, disregard for authority, and a lack of appreciation for God establishing government and installing leaders, whether good or bad.

This raises the question of how we can expect God’s blessing on our nation when we as a nation spend so much time carping about those He installs as our leaders, be that at city hall, the statehouse, or the White House.

Participation Trophies Mean Nothing

It’s been years since I got a Little League trophy.

And being the below-average player I was, the only reason I got it is that at our season-ending team dinner, the coach gave a trophy to everyone.

He even threw in some complimentary words about my contributions, which—to be honest—were scant. It was not a good year for me on the diamond.

I thought of that trophy recently when I saw a story claiming  that participation trophies are a good idea and bolstered the writer’s self-esteem.

In further researching this topic, I came across a bevy of such stories. They included this two-year-old item about Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison.

Harrison touched off a social media storm when he announced on Instagram that he would be sending back the trophies his six- and eight-year-old sons received “until they earn a real trophy.”

Meaningless Awards

Sports Participation TrophiesWhile the majority of parents applauded Harrison, it appears the sentiment hasn’t penetrated the corridors of those running youth leagues across the country.

Judging by occasional remarks I’ve heard from various states, participation trophies are still all the rage, along with a “we don’t keep score” ethic.

The funniest thing about that is who can tell you the score of supposedly non-scoring games: all the kids who are playing. The very ones who supposedly will have their tender feelings bruised if someone acknowledges there was a winner—and a loser.

The thing about a trophy is it is supposed to acknowledge something special. Regardless of whether it’s a game, an academic achievement, or another endeavor, it signifies accomplishment.

If everyone gets a trophy, then no one gets a trophy worth having. To draw a parallel, I have told a number of inexperienced writers, “You have to be sparing in your use of italics or exclamation points. If everything’s important, then nothing’s important.”

An Overreaction

Now, I’m not against instructional leagues where the emphasis is more on teaching youngsters how to play the game than who wins.

And, I’ve seen out-of-control parents bellow at umpires and act as if their child’s future professional career is on the line because of a bad call.

But in trying to compensate for the irrational and over-the-top parents who place a premium on winning and forget about sportsmanship, I think we have overreacted.

This “everyone is special” idea has penetrated into other quarters of society, as exemplified by graduations for every level of kid-dom. Even for preschoolers.

What did the little tykes do to earn their diploma? Drink all their juice box without spilling it on their shirt? Learn that there are A-B-C’s, even if they can’t line them up yet? Or just act really nice?

Heartless People

The Road to CharacterSomewhere right now, someone is likely screaming that I’m a heartless, unfeeling curmudgeon.

I would suggest that those who want to treat everyone as special are the unkind ones. As David Brooks so aptly points out in The Road to Character, today’s self-esteem-oriented parents are raising a generation of self-centered kids who go on to become self-centered adults.

A number of commentators—The Washington Post’s George Will among them—have commented about all the “snowflakes” on college campuses.

Namely, students who are catastrophically injured by the very idea that someone might disagree with them. And demand “safe zones” where they can be protected from intellectual debate or opposing ideas.

Where do you think those snowflakes came from? It started with participation trophies and A’s for everyone. All that is doing is failing to prepare young people for the real world.

The Blessings of Heart Problems

Having previously been through a heart cath—the procedure where they snake a tube through an artery to look at the heart and determine whether any blockages exist—before, I wasn’t eager to undergo another last month.

Yet it proved to be the most pleasant experience to date.

The Blessings of Heart Problems | Ken Walker WriterNot just because the test showed there weren’t any blockages (though that didn’t explain my mysterious bouts of tiredness and other symptoms of late). The support I felt throughout the weekend and the Monday morning of the test left me feeling blessed.

After a doctor decided I needed to be evaluated for possible heart issues and sent me to the hospital, I felt exhausted throughout my 68-hour stay.

Yet once I got home, I felt fine, and have ever since.

Prayer Support

I think a leading reason is peace of mind. Now I know there aren’t any budding blockages that caused my tiredness. Similar symptoms had preceded each of my previous journeys to the hospital for treatment.

But I also drew considerable encouragement from a network of friends and family members during the latest hospital visit.

Too tired to do much, I texted a number of friends across the country on Saturday and received a series of messages or phone calls in return.

“Word is out to the gang and they are already praying,” wrote a friend in Florida who used to edit a magazine where I had been a regular freelancer.

A client near Boston assured me he and his wife were praying; the next day he sent a second text: “You need to get better. I have lots of ideas brewing.”

A coauthor in Colorado who has also become a friend replied, “OK, we will join with you in prayer. Father God, we lift Ken before you with thanksgiving for your power and faith-filled requests for your quick healing touch on Ken’s heart and all organs that need to function properly.”

The Crowning Visit

“Praying for you.”“Praying for you,” wrote the president of an organization to which I belong. “Write down everything you are worried about. Then rip up the paper and throw it away—without talking about it.” (Good advice for any situation.)

Another friend in Florida told me he and his wife had prayed for me the day prior to the cath and for healing: “Receive the peace of the Lord, with a resting sleep.”

Besides these kind of messages, our youngest daughter and her daughter stopped by early Saturday evening to play a game of Five Crowns, with my meal tray as a makeshift card table.

Then on Sunday evening, our oldest daughter and her family stopped by for an hour. (When someone stays for more than 10 minutes on a hospital visit, it’s a sign the kind of relationship exists where neither party is anxious for the other to depart.)

Shortly after they arrived, so did a close friend. He had said he wanted to pray for me, so when the time came that he said he needed to leave, I told him I was expecting prayer.

Christian Support

It’s hard to describe that prayer, except to say that I could feel power moving through his hand as he laid it on my chest. He prayed that God do His work and heal me before the doctors even took a look at my arteries.

Can I say that prayer has a direct cause-and-effect relationship with the heart cath that revealed no problems? No. But it’s hard to argue with the benefits of Christian brotherhood and support when you go through any crisis.

Windows OS Shouldn’t Be Regressing

Windows OS Shouldn’t Be Regressing | Ken Walker WriterWhile the tech world was abuzz recently over the news of a Windows 10 update coming this fall, I can’t profess to feel much excitement.

Not when I’m longing for the ease and intuitive features of Windows 7.

I got a reminder of how much I loved the older operating system when a friend who had been out of town for a while stopped by recently for a visit.

A gamer, he wanted to access our wireless network to download some older games that he can play offline.

Longing for the Past

After giving him the network key, I noticed his computer had a familiar appearance. When he confirmed it was Windows 7, I said with a sigh, “I’d give anything to be able to go back to that.”

That touched off a long conversation in which he recounted the headaches he experienced after downloading Windows 10.

He couldn’t get anything to work—literally. Finally, he called Microsoft. The computer techs installed a copy of Windows 7 on a thumb drive to boot up his system.

To his delight, it worked. The techs wiped 10 off his computer and he lived to see a brighter day.

Hesitating to a Mistake

The key to his success: acting quickly.

That’s something I desperately wish I had done last year, after seeing Windows 10 downloading itself onto my laptop.

Not sure how to stop it, I watched helplessly as it went through its paces. Then I decided that trying to revert to 7 would be as big a headache as learning how to maneuver my way through 10. Big mistake.

After more than a year of working in Windows 10, I still only have a cursory idea of what in the heck is going on. I find regularly myself escaping into nostalgia: if I could only go back to 7.  

Airing Complaints

Having rarely availed myself of Cortana, I’m not even sure how the message showed up a month or two ago. But there it was: someone with Microsoft asking if I would recommend Windows 10.

“No,” I quickly typed. “I hate it.”

That’s it. No one ever got back to me or ever asked for further feedback on why I felt this way.

But that’s the way of the modern world. Finding someone who would listen even listen to a complaint, let alone actually process it, is so futile and time-consuming you learn to just adjust and move on.

Were someone at Microsoft to listen, I would tell them the following:

  • Whose bright idea was Groove? I went into my settings and changed the way I listen to recordings back to Windows Media Player. At least I can figure out how it works.
  • By this many incarnations of one’s web browser, I would think you could up with something better than Edge. It reminds me of Internet Explorer, which is why I never use it.
  • The opening menus for files are also worse. Can’t we go back to the way they were in Windows 7?

Now, to be fair, I must say the photos that appear when my computer goes into screen saver mode are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. But not enough to compensate for the drawbacks.

Costly Conversions

Several friends and my brother, who have all converted to Macs, tell me that’s the only way to go. I always reply: “Two problems: cost and learning curve.”

I simply don’t have money or time to change to something else. But to me, trumpeting new developments in Windows 10 is like bragging about your Lamborghini when you can’t get your sedan started.

Retail Apocalypse Will Affect Us All

If for no other reason than self-interest, I am hoping that Sears doesn’t slide into oblivion.

That became more likely with the recent announcement the retail giant will soon close 72 more stores.

Then came more news that it would cut 400 fulltime jobs at its corporate office and in support functions.

I’m concerned because Sears is where I bought our lawnmower and my newest set of glasses. It’s also a ready source of clothing and tools (at least until it shed its Craftsman line).

Then there is its nostalgic value. As long as I can remember, there has always been a Sears nearby at which to shop, regardless of where I lived.

Yet, another memory plays in my mind. It involves a friend whose father was once employed by Sears. When he turned 55, the company offered him three choices:

  • Work twice as many hours for the same pay
  • Take a demotion for lower pay
  • Accept an early retirement package

Not surprisingly, he chose early retirement.

Cosmic Karma

Retail Apocalypse Will Affect Us All | Ken Walker WriterThe corporate titans who issued those alternatives are long gone. Yet I can’t get over the feeling there is a touch of cosmic karma in the retailer’s current troubles.

They bring to mind the collapse of Circuit City.

You may remember the ill-fated electronics chain’s last CEO, who decided laying off its experienced employees and replacing them with low-paid workers was a good idea.

Not quite. So many customers complained and stopped shopping there that the whole chain collapsed. Karma indeed.

Serious Job Losses

Where this will all end up is anyone’s guess. The demise of retailers has stirred considerable news coverage this year. Like this story, which noted how over six decades—starting in 1960—wholesale and retail trade’s share of all employment shrank from 15.9 percent to 11.5 percent.

That includes a plunge from last October to May of 90,000 jobs in general merchandise stores, accelerating the overall bleeding of 500,000 jobs in department stores since 2001.

The latter is 18 times the number of jobs lost in the coal industry. This topic is of intense interest in West Virginia, where the demise of coal has plunged our state’s economy into the doldrums.

A Harbinger of the Future

The possibility of more retailers biting the dust carries frightening implications, from decaying downtowns to empty malls becoming magnets for tumbleweeds and squatters.The possibility of more retailers biting the dust carries frightening implications, from decaying downtowns to empty malls becoming magnets for tumbleweeds and squatters.

But it goes deeper than that. The acceleration of online shopping and nosedives in the retail world may serve as a harbinger of developments in other areas.

Recently, a friend talked of forecast that our educational system would morph into an online environment with one instructor teaching students tuning in from home.

Thus, no need for classroom buildings, cafeterias, custodial staff, and other infrastructure.

“So, what’s going to happen to all those teachers?” she asked. “Where will everyone work? Or will we all just depend on the government?”

Far-Reaching Impact

This virtual education future isn’t so far-fetched, considering that when a friend spent three weeks in China last fall, he taught his university classes in the Midwest via Skype.

Whether it will go as far as our other friend fretted about remains to be seen.

After all, every time a rather gloomy pronouncement comes along, humans adjust to render it obsolete (remember environmental alarmists in the 1970s predicting that all people would vanish before the turn of the century?)

Still, coping with the retail apocalypse will stretch our collective imaginations and resources in untold ways. The impact is likely to be far greater than where I buy my next lawnmower.

Summer Fun Won’t Include Many Circuses

Summer Fun Won’t Include Many Circuses | Ken Walker WriterWhile there will be plenty of hot dogs, hamburgers and fireworks served up next week as the United States celebrates its 241st birthday, the prospect of a circus coming to town as part of summer’s hoopla is fading.

The leading reason can be found in the recent closing of the famed Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

While there are still dozens of smaller circuses traveling the nation, one can sense an industry death knell in the late May demise of “The Greatest Show on Earth.

A Long Time Coming?

In his report on the final act, Time magazine’s David Von Drehle noted that the company put much of the blame on the recent decision to stop using elephants as performers.

Indeed, a release earlier this year from the owners, Field Entertainment, said the decision to end the circus tours was made as a result of high costs coupled with a decline in ticket sales.

“Following the transition of the elephants off the circus, the company saw a decline in ticket sales greater than could have been anticipated,” Field said, saying that made the business unsustainable.

However, Von Drehle wrote, the end of the circus’ 146-year run started decades ago.

“The Greatest Show on Earth has been headed for this day since the 1950s,” he said. “(That’s) when the same force that killed vaudeville—television—drove the storied operation out of its vast canvas big tops and into ho-hum auditoriums and arenas.”

Still Viable

The circus company put much of the blame on the recent decision to stop using elephants as performers.The demise of the circus may be overstated, as noted in a 2014 Huffington Post article. It pointed out that, at that time, France had 450 troupes and more than 600 schools for training in circus-related disciplines.

Indeed, the Canadian-based Cirque du Soleil, whose multiple Las Vegas acts play to more than 9,000 people a night, show that the circus is not dead but evolving.

Yet for me, the transition to arenas, auditoriums, and glitzy palaces belies fond memories.

They include the canvas tents and big top that were part of the traveling circus I joined for a brief excursion as a roustabout before my senior year of college.

Bleak Reality

It sounded like a good idea, a way to earn some extra spending money and enjoy the romantic life of a circus hand.

Trouble is, two friends and I quickly discovered reality was anything but dazzling. It was a lot of back-breaking, mind-numbing work. One buddy departed after one week, arising at sunrise to hitchhike home.

The other friend and I stayed on. A week later, a torrential downpour hit western Pennsylvania and nearly flooded us out of business. I still remember the roustabout who waded in water up to his chest to untie the final rope.

The waters receded the next day, but my other friend and I quickly decided it was time to head for home too.

Fond Memories

Ironically, a couple years later, after I had moved to western Florida, I picked up a young guy hitchhiking one evening.

He, too, was running away from circus life. He, too, talked of the back-breaking, low-paid labor that quickly had him thinking, “There has to be a better way to make some money.”

Despite such experiences, I retain fond memories of the circus.

The big top as I knew it has gone the way of dial-up modems and fax machines, drowned in a blizzard of smart phones, online connections, and entertainment options thousands of times greater than my childhood years.

Yet few gadgets can equal the opening call of the ringmaster as he boomed, “Ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages…” Makes me wish I could go one more time.

Shooting Lays Bare Our Need to Pray For Our Leaders

Shooting Lays Bare Our Need to Pray For Our LeadersBy now, the recriminations are flying hot and heavy regarding the barrage of gunfire last week that wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and several others.

Conservatives are blaming the hatred inflamed by the left. Liberals are blaming President Donald Trump. And the beat goes on.

However, obscured in the blame-first atmosphere of modern life is a fascinating juxtaposition of two stories that appeared in the three days before the deadly attack.

The first: a June 11 report about Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand dropping several “F” bombs during a speech to a conference at New York University’s Skirball Center in Manhattan.

Verbal Slips

I guess we could blame one on a slip of the tongue.

Even Richard Cheney let fly with such an invective during a heated exchange with Sen. Patrick Leahy during his vice-presidential tenure. John Kerry dropped one during an interview with Rolling Stone that same year.

But repeated uses of it—from a woman reputed to be a potential presidential contender in 2020—show two things:

  1. Our society has lost all sense of decorum when people at the highest levels of office think it’s perfectly okay to use gutter language in public. We need more mothers washing out their kids’ mouths with soap.
  2. Many of our leaders have lost a sense of the responsibility and high calling that comes with public service.

Sure, they face foul-mouthed, irrational, highly-partisan—and on June 14—deadly critics.

Still, elected officials must appreciate that they can’t respond in-kind to irritations and verbal assaults, especially when it involves people from the opposing party. Otherwise, they can help fuel attacks like the kind that shocked the nation last week.

Assaulting our Senses

Which brings me to fascinating story #2. The day after I read about Gillibrand’s profanity-laden tirade, Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for his late May body-slamming of a reporter.

That the incident didn’t deter his re-election shows that there are probably a number of voters who share his sentiment. But that doesn’t excuse it.

Aside from the fact that other reporters cast considerable doubt on Gianforte’s initial claim of a verbal assault by Bert Jacobs, the journalist he attacked, it was completely unjustified.

Leaders who don’t appreciate how their actions influence others shouldn’t be seeking the position, whether it’s mayor, city council or Congress.

Praying for Leaders

Lifeway's Explore the BibleHowever, before I get too carried away with what can be interpreted a finger-pointing diatribe, I must share an insight I received the day after the shooting during a morning devotion time.

It came while my wife and I studied a lesson in Explore the Bible, some excellent material published by LifeWay Christian Resources.

The latest series considers various chapters in the book of Psalms. This particular lesson focused on Psalm 84:1-12.

Verses 8-9 review the psalmist’s prayer that ends with: “Look on our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one.”

For those two verses, the study asked why it was important for the psalmist to seek God’s favor for the king, and how the realization that God anoints rulers and leaders impacted his prayer.

As my wife and I chewed on that, I saw how it was a sign of respect for the ruler God had installed in office and the psalmist’s confidence that God would answer his prayer.

Reflecting further, I also recognized that I have often failed to appreciate the rulers God has placed in office.

Whether I like the president or not is not the issue—nor those in Congress, the statehouse, or city hall. The leaders there are the ones He’s installed. I owe them my prayers. So do you.

How Government Help Often Hurts

Given the widespread bias against anything connected to President Donald Trump, I wasn’t surprised to see vitriol aimed at Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson recently for suggesting that poverty is a state of mind.

Carson grew up in inner-city Detroit and became a success in large part because of his single mother’s insistence that he read, study hard, and not settle for the circumstances surrounding him.

It strikes me that background gives him much better insights into the topic than many of the critics who lashed out at him.

Harsh Labels Abound

The popular liberal theory is that ladling more and more taxpayer funds into ever-expanding government programs is the answer to our nation’s woes.

If you don’t agree, then you automatically attract a series of harsh labels: bigot, uncaring, heartless, and associated terms.

Yet, more than 50 years after Uncle Sam initiated the War on Poverty, I don’t think it’s cruel to suggest that a lot of federal largesse has been poured down the drain.

As more than one doubter has pointed out, the primary beneficiary of anti-poverty programs has been the bureaucratic networks and cottage industries that sprang up to service this “need.”

Check out Huey Perry’s classic, They’ll Cut off Your Project, for a first-hand account of how the original funds poured into Appalachia were more about greasing political hands than helping the poor.

Help or Hurt?

Ironically, soon after the hubbub over Carson’s remarks erupted, I interviewed the pastor of a church in an impoverished area of Appalachia for a forthcoming story.

Although the church is small, it is in the midst of completing a multi-purpose building.

The facility will provide space for such things as literacy tutoring, GED programs and meals for low-income people. Obviously, the members of this church have a heart for the poor.

Yet, during our interview the pastor noted that area residents were among the first recipients of federal food stamps. He doesn’t see that as a blessing.

“People have been raised to expect things,” he told me. “The War on Poverty was a complete failure. With the millions—and billions—spent, we haven’t seen anything.”

Inflicting Damage

Granted, the government dole-out isn’t the only reason for negative developments; the downturn in coal has been a major factor too.Granted, the government dole-out isn’t the only reason for negative developments; the downturn in coal has been a major factor too.

But as I talked with the native of this poor, rural area, he pointed out how Uncle Sam’s “help” has brought little lasting benefit and added to the misery.

It also reflects some of the comments in Hillbilly Elegy, the best-selling book by Appalachian native J.D. Vance.

In it, Lance lampoons well-meaning politicians for inflicting more harm with their ivory-tower solutions to problems of which few have first-hand knowledge. Such as cracking down on payday loan firms, which Vance says are a lifeline for many living paycheck to paycheck.

Leading Answers

That a church of several dozen could be tackling such a monumental project also illustrates how spiritual solutions—although frequently derided by the news media and other skeptics—hold far more hope than government programs.

As this pastor tells it, the Lord spoke to him and said education is a leading answer to addressing the poverty, illiteracy and ignorance that keeps so many people bound up in hopelessness.

The other will come from looking for divine help: “I believe God is getting ready to show people that what they state couldn’t do, He’s getting ready to do.”

Including changing a state of mind that looks more to the government than Him.

Americans Not Likely to Count Calories

Having learned years ago in journalism school about the necessity of opening a news story with an interesting lead, I’m pretty sure the Associated Press writer who chronicled possible delays in posting of calorie counts on restaurant menus wasn’t trying to be funny.

But when I read the lead sentence recently about attempts to delay implementation of the requirement, I felt it contained a laugh-out-loud quality.

The story began: “Consumers hoping to find out how many calories are in that burger and fries may have to wait—again.”

The idea that anyone ordering a burger and fries cares one whit how many calories are in that particular choice?

In my mind, I could see a New Yorker cartoon of people lined up at McDonald’s, asking each other if they should order the salad because, “Well, there’s just too many calories in the Big Mac Meal.”

Heading for Healthy

Americans Not Likely to Count Calories | Ken Walker WriterThe objection to posting calorie counts arose from grocery stores, convenience stores and pizza restaurants concerned over the burdensome nature of implementing the regulations, now delayed until after next year.

To me, the nature of their objections would make for a better lead than the idea that burgers-and-fries consumers are standing around, breathlessly waiting to know how many calories their order contains.

After all, it’s been two years since McDonald’s threw in the towel on trying to convince consumers its entrees are healthy. Reported Business Insider: “McDonald’s emphasizes that the Big Mac is ‘not Greek yogurt’ and ‘will never be kale.’”

Indeed, another more recent story told of how McDonald’s attempts to slant its ads towards healthy options on its menu had driven away core customers. They went to the Golden Arches specifically for burgers and fries, not salads.

Or, as my brother likes to say, the continuing popularity of pizza and entrees dripping with grease or cheese shows how people really eat instead of how they say they eat.

Choosing a Chain

More likely than the public hunting for calorie counts is eateries offering slightly healthier fare, as seen by this recent story about 20 fast food chains that won’t make you fat.

If we’re honest, this is kind of a hedging your bets and hoping the outcome will tilt in your favor. It indeed may be better than burgers and fries, but I still can’t imagine anyone basing their order on the calorie count.

I know because of what I do at one of the two outlets on the 20-restaurant list with locations in our area.

Since Pita Pit is close by and I love their fresh-made offerings, it is my restaurant of choice when I head out for lunch.

Posting Information

Ironically, several months ago (showing that no one needs to wait on Uncle Sam to act) Pita Pit started posting its calorie counts.

But they only apply to the essentials of a particular pita, since the final total depends on what options one chooses. And I have cheese every time, which ups the figure.

The thing is, I never look at the counts. I rotate my choice between one of three pita combinations. I couldn’t tell you what base number of calories any of them have.

The lines are usually busy at lunch, so I don’t have the luxury of studying the menu before it’s time to order and get on down the counter and tell a worker what I want on my pita.

Calorie counts actually aren’t a bad idea. But to think they’re going to prod people into making healthier choices is a stretch.