Camel's Hair and Locusts: Seize You Later Alligator



When I was a boy, my dad hired a high school student named Dick Schmidt to help around his auto repair shop. My dad liked Dick—Dick is one of those kind of guys who everyone tends to like—because he was good-natured, honest, and had a ridiculous sense of humor. These were three qualifications my dad looked for in an employee, and so Dick was perfect as the parts gopher and clean-up guy. He is about 10 years older than me, so I remember him then as being almost grown-up when I was still quite small. Even so, I remember Dick as an outrageous teenager, even as he is an outrageous man of nearly 70 today.

What do I mean by "outrageous?" 

Well, for example, Dick Schmidt has a deformed left ear. It has been this way since birth, but since it is too complicated to explain all of this when someone asks, “What happened to your ear?” Dick just responds, “It was bit by an alligator.” Anyone foolish enough to pursue this line of questioning further is then regaled with a detailed, blow by blow description of the alligator wrestling match in which this occurred, and this leads eventually to Dick making the claim to be the foremost alligator hunter and wrestler in Michigan history. Which, as far as I know, he is; not that Michigan has much call for alligator hunters and wrestlers, though when you hear him tell it, turns out that there is more need for this sort of thing than you than you might think. And this is how he earned the nickname, “Gator.”

After working for my dad while in high school, Dick Schmidt graduated to working as the produce manager for the Giant Super Market, which used to be here in Alma, Michigan on the south side of town, right next to the Pine River. Part of our family ritual was to spend ‘most every Saturday afternoon shopping for groceries at Giant, and part of the ritual of the owner and manager, Ken Hicks, was to chase children around in the store and, when they were captured, entertain them with fingers to the ribs and Donald Duck impersonations. Actually, Mr. Hicks was entertained by this a lot more than I was, so I usually stuck close to my dad when we went shopping at Giant. While my mom and sisters shopped, we would head back to the produce department where Gator Schmidt worked. 

Now part and parcel of this alligator business was the fact that both Gator and my dad shared a mutual affection for the same TV show: Deputy Dawg. Deputy Dawg was a cartoon show in the early 1960's that was set in the swamps of southern Mississippi, and some of the featured characters besides Deputy Dawg himself, were Muskie Muskrat, Vincent van Gopher, Moley Mole, Ty Coon, Possible Possum, Pig Newton and Alligator. All were, of course, based upon broad, southern stereotypes. Most kids had parents who tolerated them watching cartoons, but in our house my dad not only insisted, but tuned them in and sat right there laughing harder than we did, especially at Deputy Dawg. One of the few arguments I can ever remember my parents having was when my mother suggested, at the urging of the PTA, that The Three Stooges be banned from our television diet. Not on the old man's watch. They were his childhood heroes and, through the miracle of television, he insisted that they would have the chance to be mine, too. And so they were. We watched them together, and it's not like I ever missed an episode of Deputy Dawg, either.

Anyway, one of Gator and Dad's favorite episodes of Deputy Dawg contains a cartoon called, “Seize You Later, Alligator.” In this one, Alligator gets a job in a gator wrestling exhibition in Miami, and when Deputy Dawg and Muskie go to visit him, they find that the exhibition consists of a giant Indian named Chief Caloosahatchee, who entertains the crowds by beating Alligator to a pulp. After one such brutal performance, Alligator makes the desperate plea, “You gotta help me, boys!” Muskie devises a plan in which the Chief gets his, and Alligator returns victorious to the Mississippi swamps, carried on the shoulders of Deputy Dawg and Muskie, and proclaiming himself the “greatest alligator wrestler ever.”
             
Thus inspired, the mythology of Deputy Dawg became twisted into the mythology of Dick Schmidt, and my dad, his ready accomplice and erstwhile straight man, acquired the nickname “Muskie” in honor of the plucky Muskrat from the cartoons. When, on a typical Saturday afternoon, my dad and I would head back to the produce section at Giant, we would be greeted by a nearly breathless Gator Schmidt, who would rush out from the stockroom to confide in my dad the latest escapades in his secret life as not only produce manager, but gator hunter extraordinaire, at the Giant Super Market.  Looking around as if to make sure no one could hear him confide the shocking news to follow, and then speaking loudly enough so that anyone nearby could hear, the conversation would go something like this:

“You won't believe what happened this week, Muskie.”

“What, not again?”
           
“You bet.  A really big one this time.  At least a ten footer: maybe even twelve.”

By this time, the ears of the now curious shoppers were leaning in to catch the details.

“How did he get into the store?”

“You know how they do it, Muskie. They're smart. This one hid in a crate full of oranges. They're a lot smarter than people think. They only play dumb to trick you. He hid in that crate of oranges we ordered from Florida, and the oranges got lifted up on a truck, and the truck got unloaded here, and the next thing you know, I'm chasing a twelve foot gator around the stockroom with a broom.”

“You caught him with a broom?”

Gator, half disgusted: “You can't catch a big one like that with a broom. He's got to be wrestled and subdued.”

“So, did you wrestle him right here in the store?”

“I tried to, but it was too dangerous. I was afraid he'd get out of the stockroom and out onto the floor. Got to put the safety of the customers first. I let him out into the parking lot so I had room to go after him, but he took a nip at me and got away.”

“He took a nip at you?”

“He sure did. Look at my ear! I was lucky; he just missed taking my head off. Then he took off for the river.”

“And you took in after him?”

“I sure did. But they're fast in the water, and he got up to the dam and got around it before I could get to him, and the next thing I know, he's swimming up the millpond. I decided to head him off at Conservation Park.”

“How did you get him to go for the park?”
           
“I ran there ahead of him and lured him with a duck call. Gators love duck, so I made a sound like a wounded duck and he came running—old Indian trick. And before he knew what hit him, I was on him.”

“He must have been tired from swimming all that way upstream.”

“You'd think so, but he put up a terrific fight for an hour or better. The big ones are strong! He finally slipped up and I got him in a half nelson and was able to drag him back to the store. Florida game officer picked him up.”

“Did anybody see you?”

“No. I was lucky, because it was all in broad daylight, too. That's a good thing, because people would panic if they knew of all the gators that make it up here from Florida. It would scare folks half to death if they knew how smart they really are—and how fast!”

By this time, there would usually be a small crowd gathered, and Ken Hicks would show up to tell Gator to get back to work and to give me a finger in the ribs and a Donald Duck. Sometimes my mom would get done shopping and come to collect my dad and me, and she'd ask Dick, “You got any new stories, Gator?” He would call out on his way back to the stockroom, “Muskie can tell you all about it,  Mrs. Muskie!”  
           
When I look back at my childhood, I sometimes marvel that I grew up as normal as I did. 

Every Gator Schmidt story was a variation on this basic theme, and while the details would always vary somewhat as to the size of the gator and the ensuing wrestling match and capture, and, as time permitted, some stories were much more elaborate and embellished than this one, each invariably ended in the secret knowledge of a gator conspiracy and the need to protect the public from the “awful truth” of this self imported menace. This created a “gator problem” and gave all of this an air of Cold War paranoia that in retrospect was both hilarious and added the perfect punch line to every tale. It was a subtle touch that I never fully appreciated until I was much older. 

This was my dad’s touch and it was reflected in the influence he had on Gator Schmidt’s deeper perception of reality, the world around him, and the way this played itself out in a Deputy Dawg inspired mythology of alligators infiltrating the northland to wreck havoc on an unsuspecting population. If you are now wondering if perhaps this gator conspiracy wasn't an attempt by the South to gain revenge upon the North for the Civil War, then you're beginning to grasp how this all works, because this conspiracy theory has actually been suggested and discussed at some length. 

When an individual connected with my dad at this level and participated in his gentle madness in this way, he would say that he had “ruined” that person. What this meant was that this person now saw the world in the same somewhat twisted and yet somehow more deeply perceptive way that he did, and was no longer able to participate in the true madness of what most perceived to be the “real” world.

My dad ruined Dick Schmidt in this way and he ruined me, and because Gator and I share this in common, it gives us a bond such as I suspect insane brothers might share. He ruined many others, including my youngest sister. The gator conspiracy continues to this day, and when circumstances were such that reports appeared on the news of alligators turning up unexplained in northern states recently, Michigan included, I asked Gator about this and he replied defensively, “I retired.” The theory of people releasing alligators held as pets makes a nice cover story, but we know better, don't we?

What I know of politics, I learned from my father. As a man who saw the humor in everything in which humor is contained, and especially in people who take themselves too seriously, (which he certainly did not), the political sphere was endlessly entertaining to him. And his object lessons to me usually centered around the theme of the danger of taking all of this too seriously as, in his opinion, too many did. For him, Dick Schmidt's endless and heroic pursuit of imaginary alligators was an allegory to all of the supposed real world importance that politicians give to themselves. His point being, of course, that the game of politics and politicians was to convince the public that whatever imaginary alligator they were pursuing was the real issue of the day, and the real purpose behind this was the siphoning off of the public's money so as to see this gator wrestled and subdued. His understanding of politicians was that they publicly substituted a false altruism and a concern for the greater good for an egoism and avarice that sought their own aggrandizement, as they lined their pockets with their take from the funds they raked in for their wealthy supporters.

One such object lesson took place when we are on vacation in Lake City. We arrived at the downtown motel where we had reservations to find none other than G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams, the former governor of Michigan, campaigning for the Michigan Senate seat then held by Robert Griffin. This was in the summer of 1966, and I would have been 12 years old at the time. Governor Williams was handing out campaign literature and had a small crowd of maybe a dozen people assembled around him on the sidewalk. 

My dad pulled in and parked our black, 1960 Buick Invicta a few feet away and said to me, “Come on, I want you to meet somebody.” Sensing that he was up to something with the potential for embarrassment, my mother intoned her usual, “For God's sake, Irv...,” but it was too late and he was out of the car.

I got out of the car behind him and we walked over and joined what turned out to be a rather unenthusiastic group of voters. Governor Williams looked tired, and even as a 12 year old who cared much about the Detroit Tigers and very little about state politics, I knew his campaign wasn't going well. He would eventually lose the election in November. My dad proceeded to cut through the small crowd and in the warmest, friendliest and most cheerful manner he could, thrust out his hand and said, “Hello, Soapy! How are you? Irv Ropp!” 

As if on cue, the famous smile emerged, it was like lights went on, and the tired and spent looking Williams of a moment before disappeared, and in his place stood the former governor on center stage.  He grabbed my dad's hand as if it were a lifeline and warmly said, “Hello, Irv! Glad to see you! Is this your son? Hello, young man! How are you doing?”

“Fine, sir,” I managed.

Glancing over at the car, Governor Williams continued to my dad, “How's the wife and the rest of the family?”

“We're all fine, Governor," my dad said earnestly. “How's the campaign going?”

Williams looked my dad in the eye as if it was a conversation between just the two of them, and said energetically, “Well, Irv, as I was just telling these fine folks....” He went on to lay out his campaign and his strategies for this and that, and gave the finest example I have seen to this day of what I would later learn is called a “stump speech.” More people gathered, the crowd must have doubled, and my dad tugged at my shirt and we walked back to the car as the speech continued. I was duly impressed and somewhat taken aback that my dad was such close friends with such a famous man.

“Wow!” I exclaimed. “I didn't know that you knew G. Mennen Williams!” 

“I don't,” my dad replied. “Never saw him before in my life, and he doesn't know me from Adam.” 

“But he even knows about our family and everything!” I protested.

“Let that be a lesson to you,” my dad said. “That's politics. A friendly face in a bored crowd and I'm his best friend for five minutes. Once I walk away, I go right back to being a stranger.”

My dad's overall view on politics held it to be a necessary evil. He was a patriotic man who voted in every election, though usually did so holding his nose. I suppose you could say he was an Eisenhower Republican in search of an Eisenhower. He didn't trust Nixon but liked Kennedy (and especially Kennedy's father) even less. Johnson disgusted him, but he feared Goldwater. His take on the presidency was that anyone who could get the nomination of either party must be so thoroughly corrupted on the climb to the top that there was no chance anyone of true character would ever make it.  Because of what I suppose we would call today the “red state mentality” of small town, small business, Midwestern America, and his conviction that less government and lower taxes were always more beneficial to the greater good, he identified himself politically as a Republican. However, it was certainly not a political identity that he held with any great devotion or affection. He was much more a vote the man not the party kind of person, and usually found great displeasure in the quality of the man offered on either side of the ballot. It isn't fair to say that he really believed in politics or the political process, and held it all at arms length with a certain disdain and even contempt.

What my dad did believe in was people. He didn't consider anyone's politics to be a determining factor in their character or worth, and had friends of both persuasions that placed on all rungs of the social ladder from top business leaders, bankers and college professors to those who couldn't reach the first rung. When my dad died in 1985, we held a small service for him in Florida and then a graveside service in Michigan. Over 400 persons jammed into the cemetery to pay their last respects, and in the crowded hall where we held the luncheon afterward, one of his old friends laid a hand on my shoulder and said, “Some people collect cars, some collect coins or stamps, and all too many just collect money. But your dad collected people. They were all the richer for it, and if a man's worth is measured in his friends, then he was the richest man of all.” That old friend was Dick “Gator” Schmidt.

So my dad didn't die a rich man, though he could have. He was a master mechanic and ran a very busy shop, and I never knew anyone who worked harder than he did. He didn't see his job as fixing your car as much as fixing your problems, and there were many, many nights when he had to go back to work after supper because he had spent his day listening to the troubles of his customers, offering advice, sharing a laugh, or, even better, turning tears to laughter, which he was very, very good at also. My mother ran his office and the business end of the shop because when my father did it, he almost went under by giving too much away. As it was, my mom was on him continually to charge more for this or that and to stop doing so much work on credit. 

I remember seeing an old 1948 Chevy one ton stake truck come in on the hook of Art Condon's wrecker one August day. The left front wheel dangled from a broken spindle, and as Art helped us get it situated with cement blocks propping up the left front he said, “Good luck with this one, Irv. The rest of it isn't much better.”

Behind the truck came a local Mexican man with a terribly forlorn and frightened looking man behind him. From his clothes, it was obvious he was a migrant worker, and the man with him, a friend of my dad's, served as his interpreter. This man, his family and another family were from southern Texas and traveled the northern crop circuit in the summer. The truck was their livelihood and their transportation.  They had just finished picking pickles in Gratiot County and were about to leave for their next job in Pennsylvania when the truck broke down. They had been to another garage and had been refused service because the job couldn't be paid for until they received their check for the work just completed, which would be after they were on the next job in Pennsylvania. When this story was told at his church, my dad's friend said, “Come on, I know someone who can help.”

The man at the first garage had said it would take $300 to fix the truck. My dad said, “Ask him if he can afford $300.” The exchange took place in Spanish and the man shrugged. “He says ‘yes,’ but it will be very hard for them.” My dad said, “Tell him I'll do it for $200 and tell him I won't let him haul his wife and kids around in a piece of junk like this.” This was translated and the response didn't have to be, as I know just enough Spanish to know what “Gracias, gracias, gracias” means. 

I spent the next two evenings as my dad's shop helper. He put new parts in the front end of the truck on both sides, and after finding a similar truck in a local junkyard, called in favors and got other parts for cheap. The $200 ended up spent on parts, and my dad must have put in 10 hours or more of labor that I knew of, and probably much more. He went through that truck from one end to the other, fixing whatever he could find that needed it. And there was plenty. He never told the man from Texas about all of that, because he wouldn't have hurt his pride for the world. He did tell him that the truck would get them to Pennsylvania and home to Texas, and it did. And in spite of my mom's fears about letting the job go out of town on credit, a money order for $200 arrived in the mail two weeks later with a very gracious note that translated roughly to “Gracias, gracias, gracias.”

During the countless other nights I served as shop helper, holding the light and passing wrenches and other tools, I heard my dad's whole philosophy of life expounded; his views on economics, his disdain for politics and politicians, and his belief that the evils of the world could be easily overcome if people merely learned to take care of one another. He didn't believe the government could or should do this, but he did believe that if you and I did, that others would, and that this would eventually make the world a better place. He believed in cash flow economics; that the more cash that flowed the more everyone would have. He once said, “If I was rich I'd show them how to do it. I'd spend it so damn fast it would make their heads spin.” If you were out with him and he had $10 that meant you had $5. If you went out to eat, he grabbed the check. If he had it and you needed it, he loaned it to you, and if you needed it more than he did, he gave it to you. When my wife and I got married, I had to ask my old man for $5 to put gas in my car so we could drive to the wedding. He gave me a twenty and said, “A man can't get married without a few bucks in his pocket.” He was not only my dad but the best friend I ever had.

The years rolled by and my wife, Jean, and I ended up owning a little cottage resort in Leelanau County. One day the Gator Schmidts found us, and they became regular guests and we had a lot of fun getting reacquainted with Dick, his wife Char, and their daughter, Tammi. 

Gator Schmidt used to go down to Bass Lake and poke around under the boats and in the weeds and such until one of the other guests would ask him what he was doing. He would then explain that it was his job to check for alligators and give the “all clear.” He reprised the gator tales to fit northern Michigan, and claimed that the gators had figured out how to endure the winters by hiding in beaver lodges. They'd come out lethargic in the spring after fattening up on beaver all winter and that made them easier to catch and wrestle. He now traveled up north regularly to help the Michigan Department of Natural Resources monitor the gator situation, and he was concerned because there were more of them all of the time, and by moving in with the beavers they were now able to stay permanently and establish residency. From the Cold War of the 1960's to the illegal immigration of the 1990's, the alligator menace managed to adapt itself to the times.

One of the joys of seeing the Schmidts regularly was getting to know daughter Tammi. Tammi was born with Downs Syndrome, and is pretty profoundly affected by it. She can only manage a few words, and Dick and Char communicate mostly with her through sign language. When our youngest daughter, Martha, came along in 1996, Tammi Schmidt was excited and overjoyed. When the Schmidts would arrive for a visit, Tam was the first one to the door and would enter our home office repeatedly calling out one of the few words she could speak, “Baby! Baby! Baby!” The first order of business was always bringing the baby for Tammi to see, while Char would offer apologetically, “Tam just loves babies.” And so she did. She would gently cradle Martha in her arms as Jean helped her hold her, and her smile and the sheer and unqualified love for the child on her face made Tam seeing the baby as much our priority as hers.

Times change as they do, and when Dick bought a second Better Made snack food route, we saw less of the Schmidts. Jean and I sold out our home and business in Leelanau County in 2003 and bought the Santa Rosa Hotel in Sebring, Florida. When the Santa Rosa was destroyed by Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, we made the decision to move back to Michigan and ended up back in Alma in 2005. It had been a number of years since we had seen the Schmidts when Char invited us over to their house for dinner shortly after we got settled in Alma. When we walked in, Tammi was ecstatic at seeing us, and ran to hug Jean and me. She hugged daughter Liz, and then looked around in a near state of panic and said, “Baby! Baby! Baby!” Dick pointed to Martha, who was now a girl of eight, and said, “Baby!” Tammi looked at us quizzically and asked, “Baby?” And then the panic began to set in again. What had happened to the baby? Dick took Tammi over to Martha and signed the word “Baby” into her hand and pointed and nodded towards Martha. Suddenly, the realization hit home, and Tam's eyes got big, and her face lit up, as she grabbed Martha and hugged her as tight as she could while jumping for joy and calling out, “Baby! Baby! Baby!” She had found the baby, and as for our reaction, well, I tear up just writing this down for you.

After dinner we got caught up with the Schmidts. Dick informed me of all the latest trials and tribulations of the gator problem, and confided that he was getting a little too old for the hard, physical strain the wrestling represented. He still liked to tangle with one now and then, but said he had to admit that it was a younger man's game. He was contemplating retirement. Char, who has a knack for ignoring all of this, wanted to know about our family, and so we exchanged information and learned that we were all blessed to being doing quite well, especially Tam, who by this time was nearing 40 and in good health, which is somewhat unusual for those challenged with the various health issues that go along with Downs. The remark that Char made that stayed with me after that evening, and which I think of often to this day was this: “We were lucky we had Tam when we did. Back then we had to fight to raise her at home and not institutionalize her, now the fight would be to let her be born.”

Now, being pro-life is not anything new for me. When we learned Jean was pregnant for our second daughter, Rachel, back in 1983, I had just lost a business, I had no job and we were deeply in debt.  When someone suggested to me that we could “fix the problem,” I recoiled in horror at the thought, and Jean wouldn't even entertain the idea. I got a good job the week that Rachel was born, and we dug ourselves out of debt, and life went on—for all of us. “You'll be all right,” my dad said. And so we were.

Jean and I and our daughters Liz and Martha became Catholic converts in 2002, and we were soon introduced to the pro-life movement and the March for Life, and we've always appreciated the Catholic Church for her willingness to stand in the public square and be heard in support of this most basic and worthy of causes—the right to life for everyone. When our daughter Liz, now a college freshman, had the chance to go to Washington and participate in this year's March with St. Mary University Parish at Central Michigan University, we were excited for her, and it brought the March closer to home for us, and we found ourselves moved towards an even deeper commitment for life. That remains.

For a number of years, Jean and I have published Radio New Jerusalem, which began as a website dedicated to Christian shortwave radio, and which has evolved into a daily Catholic news portal. We provide links to a wide variety of Catholic news sources and other resources, and we feature a daily update of Catholic news headlines. We promote a daily feature story which is usually from a Catholic source or which is pertinent to current events affecting Catholics. Every year, we dedicate this promotional space to the March for Life and post stories pertaining to the March in specific, and life issues in general for a week or better. Since this site is dedicated to the Catholic faith, and represents those news sources who support the teachings of the Catholic Church, those who use it know where we are coming from and we get little criticism or comment. We mostly represent what's out there in the mainstream of the Catholic media and do our best to give our viewers ready access to all of it.

More recently, I have started using Facebook. This has had some good points, as it has been fun to connect with old friends from years ago, and there are certainly a lot of positive aspects to it. Overall, I'm not a particularly outgoing or social person, and I can see where perhaps social media may not be all bad for me.

During the week of March for Life, and perhaps a little more zealous than in the past because of Liz's excitement at participating in the March in Washington DC, we prepared for the big event by posting numerous pro-life stories from Catholic media to my Facebook Timeline. What I was not prepared for was the venomous and vitriolic response I got to some of these articles, which inflamed the socially liberal sensitivities of some who have not known me in a long, long time and who were apparently caught unawares that I take a socially conservative approach to pro-life issues specifically, and in general follow the teachings of my Catholic faith as the Church I love so instructs me to do. In short, none of the articles were penned by me as this one has been, and I offered no comment of my own.  Still, for posting these stories I have been labeled a “rightwing nut job,” a “rightwing hater,” and an “Obama basher,” and I have been told in no uncertain terms that if I am pro-life then I am also pro-death penalty, pro-war, pro-drone strikes, pro-nuclear weapons, pro-guns, pro-torture, pro-land mines and, apparently, pro any number of evil things that must somehow travel with my pro-life point of view.

In truth, I am pro-none of the above except life. In fact, as far as the death penalty goes, I see that as a pro-life issue also. When it comes to criminal justice, I favor restorative justice and the Scandinavian corrections model, which puts me on the far left in that area. I'm not pro-guns, per se but I see no reason why someone who can handle a firearm and the responsibility shouldn't own one—or more. I have a small town, rural viewpoint on this because that's where I'm from. As for pro-war, I'm an extreme pacifist according to the tradition of my Mennonite ancestors, and from growing up during the Vietnam era, and I admit that the Catholic “just war” doctrine makes me wince as it does a lot of other like minded Catholics. Like most folks, I am very conservative on some issues, very liberal on others, and overall travel somewhere near the middle of the road on most. I believe that the views of all politicians need bashing at some point, but there's a difference between bashing the politics and bashing the person. My dad didn't see eye to eye on much politically with G. Mennen Williams, but that didn't stop him from liking him enough as a person to interject himself into a situation where he could win him a few votes, even though I'm pretty sure Bob Griffin got his that November. I don't see eye to eye on much with Barack Obama, but that doesn't give me any cause to be discourteous to his person, and I have not been. Given the chance to speak with him in person, I would be cordial and I'm sure I could expect that in return from the President. The other side of the lesson I received that day in Lake City was that those at the top are as deserving of our respect as are those at the bottom. And so everyone in between. My dad was an easygoing man, but he didn't tolerate disrespect or meanness in any way, shape, or form, and I was taught to exhibit a type of congeniality towards all that in the South is the result of what they call “upbringin.”

Because I am my father's son and was raised to see all persons as worthy of respect, love and appreciation, I have friends who are adamantly Republican, adamantly Democrat, and many who fall in between to one degree or another. I know many people of goodwill among both parties who should not be judged by any label, political or otherwise, but merely by that. My family remains split in this way, but we manage to love and appreciate each other and, though perhaps split, we are in no way divided. 

I have found that most people are, or want to be, people of good will. They are found in every circumstance. And every circumstance has those who are out for their own selfish gain. The key is to organize as people of goodwill and not according to any of the pejorative labeling of either political party, or through any divisiveness that the human condition seems so prone to. Do this and it will guarantee a majority. To be so simplistic as to assume that a person's worth can be judged by his political or religious affiliation is what brought the world the horrors of Nazism and Communism, and in Roman times it is what led Jesus to the Cross.  
           
Much of the political debate in the United States does come down to wrestling imaginary alligators, at least in the sense that most issues can be debated again and solved in some different way if the first choice doesn't work out. If the gator gets away, we can chase him up the mill pond and catch him in the park with a duck call. New gators come along and we are want to debate the best means to wrestle and subdue them, but the debate on these issues does not define us, it merely occupies our minds with seeking the right solution. Hatred is never the solution and always the problem, and love is always where the solution to the problem is found. 

Our nation and our world will be ultimately judged upon the way in which we love one another, and when Jesus returns if he is able to find faith on earth, this will be the reason why. To have faith in him means we must have faith in each other, and the devil only conquers us when he divides us. And regardless of what we come up with for government programming, the need still remains to reach out to those in need and get our own hands dirty fixing a man's truck and giving him a break, so he can get to Pennsylvania, so he can continue his quest to lift his family out of poverty. Government programs that mire people deeper in poverty rather than giving them the tools to rise above it are wrong, and handouts without love, and absent of belief in the people whom they are for, create slaves and not free men.

The issues of life and death, however, are not imaginary alligators. They are, well, issues of life and death. Love seeks life and not death. It is through God's love for us that He became man and offered Himself up for us at the Cross that we might have life, have it more abundantly, and have it for eternity.  Life is heaven's gift to us and it is be to respected like no other, and at all stages from cradle to grave. 

The Tammi Schmidts of this world teach us that if our situation were reversed and the Downs Syndrome people were put in charge of the earth, they would be the last to murder us in the womb. They would, like Tammi, demand to see the baby. 

That's Tammi's lesson for us. Love the baby. Seize you later, alligator, but demand to see that baby.

Phil Ropp

Phil Ropp owns the news portal Radio New Jerusalem