Reflections by DR. MILT SERNETT
An Uplifting Experience!
The mountain man you see at the right is the author at age 40. Brother Gil came to Syracuse in July 1982 to join me in making an ascent of Mt. Marcy in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks. It was a memorable birthday experience, what with an attack of killer mosquitoes, aching leg muscles, and haphazard meals of our own making (no birthday cake or ice cream). We had planned the climb on the assumption that at age sixty I might not be up to the challenge. Well, my sixtieth, not to mention my seventieth, birthday has come and gone. The shaggy and somewhat fierce climber pictured here holding up an Adirondack trail guide has mellowed some in three decades. A lot of that black hair (what is left anyway) has turned grey.
On my sixtieth birthday in July 2002 (and that of Jan that October), our children and our siblings gave us a certificate for a champagne hot air balloon ride. If you were in the Auburn/Finger Lakes area about sunset on August 1, 2002, and looked to the skies you would have seen the Sernetts floating up, up, and away in the gondola of the Morning Glory. This was a first for us, and I confess to having been nervous, though Jan enjoyed the ride. I am a “feet on the ground” kind of guy. According to the balloonist, the propane-propelled craft met all FAA standards, but I was worried about the answer he gave to a query novice floaters ask. Question: “What happens if a bird flies into a balloon?” Answer: “It would likely bounce off.” Why “likely” I wondered; don’t balloonists know by now, or does it depend on the size and attitude of the bird?
In telling son Matt (who lives in Seattle) about our “uplifting experience,” I observed that at age eighty I will be too old for strenuous activity like mountain climbing and too timid (or wise) to climb into a basket of woven rattan attached to a nylon envelope. By then, I may well have developed an aversion to hot air balloons and think of them much as did those French farmers in the 1700s. Never having seen hot air balloons, the farmers attacked them with pitchforks. Consequently, balloonists began to carry bottles of champagne to mollify the angry public. I said to Matt that I would be satisfied on my 80th birthday for God’s angels to carry me away. Somewhat alarmed at this prospect, he suggested that a space ship would do just fine and that I should ask the angels to hold off until I turned one hundred!
Life, like hot air ballooning, has its vicissitudes. In ballooning, the downs are as good as the ups, but, as all of us have experienced from time to time, when you are born into “this mortal coil” (to use a Shakespearean metaphor) there is no guarantee that the ride will always be smooth or the landing uneventful. Bad things happen to good people, a moral conundrum that baffles our innate sense of fair play. If God is in control, then why do the righteous suffer while sinners seem to prosper? The stock market takes a dive, corporate executives who have been cooking their company’s books bail out early and pocket millions of dollars. In contrast, ordinary workers see their retirement nest eggs dwindle and the innocent lose faith in the American dream.
Children seem to discover the power (and mystery) of the word “fair” about the third grade, maybe earlier, as was the case with the two little Sernetts--Matthew and Rebecca. “Dad, that’s not fair!” is a stinging accusation coming from one’s progeny, especially if one thinks of themselves as a reasonably good (and just) parent. Usually a child’s use of the concept of fairness at an early age decodes as “I didn’t get as much pumpkin pie as my sister,” or “Catherine’s parents let her go to the movies. Why not me?”
As the decades go by, our sense of fairness matures, more closely approximating the Biblical concept of justice. We pray, “Oh Lord, deal with me not as I deserve, but as you will. Be merciful, and gracious in the name of Jesus. Amen.” I turned seventy-one this month (on July 21). Seven decades of personal ups and downs have taught me an important lesson. I do not want God to deal with me fairly, as I deserve. I would be in serious trouble. When our allotted time riding in the gondola called Earth nears an end, and we face the prospect of going before the divine bar of justice, we must plead guilty and fall back to stand in the shadow of the Cross of Christ. From that vantage point, we hope to be lifted up for the final ascent into the arms of the everlasting God.