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Crosstalk: What in the world is going on?



Mark brought a bunch of bananas to work one afternoon and I brewed up a pot of decent coffee (he isn’t allowed to touch the scoop anymore) and then we sat amidst the paper-filled ruins of our joint cubicle sipping and peeling to debate the subject of this week’s Crosstalk.

We decided to take a departure from discussing federal politics and tossed about a few light and fluffy topics, such as the medicinal value of Yarrow (his idea that I nixed because he had already gotten us into the dandelion debate a few months back). We settled on something a little more serious after I made gagging noises, so this week we will assess whether the end of the world is nigh and talk about how we cope with today’s stress.

It is my firm belief that America, which was founded on a spiritual basis, is in a moral decline that will lead to destruction if people don’t change course.

There, how is that for some light reading?

Although I have more than a few rough edges, I have a strong Christian faith and I believe our descent into madness started in earnest in the 1960’s when a relentless attack was mounted in the courts to drive God out of public life.

Since that time, the rate of religious participation has declined precipitously, which has left more people searching for fulfillment and a purpose. Our leaders are ungrounded.

More families are now broken and millions of children are being raised by harried single parents without a strong male role model. Many of these children live in poverty.

On the other end of the spectrum, children raised in more affluent families are exhibiting an unprecedented level of selfishness and do not seem to see themselves as members of a greater society.

Parental discipline in both scenarios has often dwindled away to nearly no discipline at all. Television, the internet and social media fill the minds of malleable children with glamorized sex and violence.

Churches are failing to be on the front lines as they should be when it comes to caring for those falling through the cracks, including the hordes of mentally ill people that are homeless and the history-making number of indigent inmates who fill our prisons.

As a result of having people in elected offices who are more concerned about wielding power and/or using their influence to leverage wealth than making sound policy decisions, the U.S. is falling behind in infrastructure, education and health care.

Other nations are improving faster than our own, which will ultimately threaten our security.

So, how do I cope with this grim assessment of our culture? It’s easy. I concentrate on making a difference in my own little puddle wherever I can.

I am not responsible to fix things out of my control. If everyone else is taking care of their puddle, then the whole world gets bathed with compassion.

When I get overwhelmed by negativity, I remind myself that my area of responsibility is small and that I only need to focus on it.

I also remind myself that God does not call us to win, he calls us to stand. If a million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing and the mob does not influence my thinking.

My puddle is now filled with troubled combat veterans and prisoners. I make a difference in their lives and they teach me many lessons about how to be a better human being.

My puddle will get larger when I complete my book about the need for prison reform. The stories told by these inmates are heart-wrenching. I intend to get laws changed so that we actually live up to our nation’s values of mercy and second chances. This sense of purpose sustains me.

I say what I mean and mean what I say, and I will carry that determination into this fight, or any other that I believe is right and good.

In my time, I will stand and be counted. And that is all that any of us is required to do. The outcome is not ours.

—RaeLynn Ricarte

It was a tough month, what can I say? When I go bananas, I really go bananas. With weak coffee, of course.

For many years, right about 3:30 p.m. every Monday through Friday without fail, long-time The Dalles Daily Chronicle reporter, the late Elroy King, would stand up, get his coat and announce to the newsroom, “I’ve had all the fun I can stand,” and go home.

When Crosstalk came up this past week — we have to pick the topic early — I told RaeLynn I was sick to death of politics, I’d “had all the fun I can stand,” and we should talk about something else.

How that turned into “whether the end of the world is nigh and how we cope with today’s stress,” I’m not sure.

But, I was intrigued by the question of whether the end is nigh.

It can certainly feel that way, especially for those of us working in the news industry.

The headlines roll through with conflict, war, death and dire predictions. It all seems to grow worse each day and little of it is under our control.

But I am reminded of a handful of headlines on the front page of the Chronicle that caught my eye about four years ago: One bannered growing diplomatic tensions and threats of war between the U.S. and Iran, another referenced the death toll in Syria, a third violence and upheaval in Mexico. A big story at the bottom of the page referred to a terrorist bombing in an American city. Nothing unusual in today's news feed, except for the fact they ran on the front page of the local paper.

But that paper was yellow with age, 100 years old, and was published in the spring of 1914. Those headlines, which seemed oddly current, were documenting the march to World War I.

Those reading the articles at that time must have felt they were facing the end of the world for sure, even here in The Dalles: A huge headline on the front page July 20, 1917, reads “FIRST NO. DRAWN CALLS FOR TOM HUDSON OF DALLES.” A full list of those drafted, drawn by lottery, takes up much of the page. (Hudson survived and returned to The Dalles, according to the 1940 census.)

As the war raged, other headlines catch the eye. “Russians use poisonous gas” stands out, from 1917, as does “Bombardment at night is intense” and “Most savage battle in the world history.”

The end of the world was nigh: The world changed forever. And we survived. How?

Much has been written about our wars, but a story published in 1917 under the headline, “Greatest demonstration for preparedness in world's history,” seems to address the question. The story reported the “greatest outpouring of civilians to support the principle of preparedness in the world's history.” It detailed a march of 140,000 civilians, organized into divisions, in the city of New York, passing in review for 13 hours. Every profession was represented.

Which brings me to the second half of our Crosstalk question: How do we cope with today's stress.

It's impossible to predict what will happen next: Our wars are ongoing and undefined. But one difference is obvious: We do not stand united, but are a people at war with ourselves.

In writing Crosstalk, my personal intention has been to shift, in some small way, the focus from “hot-button issues” to understanding and common ground. By engaging in good faith we illuminate a road forward.

Here in the newsroom, for example, regardless of which of us is under attack, RaeLynn and I share the hate mail and are united against the Facebook bullies. RaeLynn, weak coffee aside, is not my enemy. We disagree on many things — important to both of us — but respect each other's opinions. When I predicted years ago that if she wasn't careful she would end up with a prison ministry, she laughed. Today she is writing a book and actively working with conservatives and liberals alike to initiate real change.

Two against the ugliness of the world today may not be much, but it's a start.

— Mark Gibson



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