May 5, 2015


A justly famous family story recounts the incident more than 30 years ago when my older brother and his bride encountered two four-foot rat snakes while on their honeymoon road trip. Dave, an avid amateur naturalist, quickly concluded that he needed these gleaming specimens to live in the special snake habitat that, to this day, he keeps in his elementary school classroom.

He secured the snakes in a wire cage he conveniently kept in the trunk of his Subaru, and continued on the trip. A day or so later he and his new wife were dismayed to discover the wire cage empty and the snakes gone, almost certainly disappeared into the upholstery or undercarriage of the small car.

I would have immediately found other transportation, but I am not my brother. Having thoroughly searched the car to no avail, they continued on their honeymoon, confident that the snakes would emerge when they grew hungry enough.

Their confidence was rewarded 30 days later when the black rat snake fell out of a wheel well of the Subaru in their driveway and was quickly recaptured. The other, a muscular, shockingly orange-colored reptile, remained on the loose.

One day as my sister-in-law drove through suburban Boston traffic, the orange rat snake suddenly emerged from the window well immediately to her left and began crawling across her feet. With nerves of steel she guided the car to the edge of the road, captured the elusive but now-hungry snake, and locked him—securely—in the wire cage, still conveniently in the trunk.

Thus there has always been, in my personal dictionary of virtues, a picture of my sister-in-law beside the word “unflappable.”

Unflappability is not highly prized in our overly passionate age. Our culture—even our church culture—frequently rewards those with sharp and colorful emotions. They seem able to quickly summon deep indignation or presentiments of doom for any of a dozen issues ranging from some matters that may truly deserve it to the appropriateness of 10-year-olds collecting the morning offering on a Children’s Sabbath. And since emotion—especially negative emotion—is often deemed compelling by our media, we hear preponderantly from those who never had a small emotion in their lives. The voices predicting doom for the remnant have now grown into a chorus, even though the thought of singing together with anyone else about anything would certainly trouble most of them.

It’s time for Adventists everywhere to reward those steady and unflappable ones among us who continue with their mission and persevere with their witness even while the world is falling apart. When true emergencies arise, please let me be surrounded by those with steady nerves and quiet voices instead of those who make a living magnifying what is already painfully apparent. I want to honor those among us who in moments of crisis move toward prayer instead of toward a microphone, and who understand intuitively that the good of the group requires a willingness to stifle any self-serving temptation to needlessly shout “Fire!” in a crowded room.

More than 20 years ago a technology company harnessed the wisdom of a modern proverb to effectively portray itself as a steadying force in turbulent times. “No more prizes for predicting rain,” its ad proclaimed in large block type. “Prizes only for building arks.”

Not bad for a secular firm intent on selling copiers and computers. Even better for a movement intent on preparing a people to meet the Lord in peace.