Editor’s note: The following has become a yearly favorite from Dr. Piper’s previous Christmas season editorials and it is, therefore, reprinted in that spirit.
I was recently watching the movie The Polar Express with my family and several friends. As you likely know, this movie is a digitally animated 3D production that stars Tom Hanks as the conductor of a train (the Polar Express) on a magical Christmas Eve journey to the North Pole. As the locomotive chugs over mountains, through valleys, and over the frozen tundra, its young passengers must decide if they “believe” in Santa Claus. One boy in particular has his doubts. The train ride represents his struggle.
At the end of the movie, as the Polar Express is quietly returning the children to their respective homes, this specific little boy is trying desperately to determine what to think of his adventure. What should he believe? What is true and what is false? What is right and what is real? Then, as the train groans to a stop in front of the little boy’s house, the conductor (Hanks) ushers the little boy down the steps, stops in the freshly fallen snow, turns, and quietly says, “The one thing about trains: it doesn’t matter where you are going. What matters is deciding to get on.”
In the 1990s there was another movie, a historical drama, and it too featured a train ride. This train, however, was not leading to the snow-covered hills of the North Pole, but to the ash-laden courtyards of places such as Auschwitz and Dachau. This movie was Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List and in this film we see that Tom Hanks might have been wrong after all—that it does indeed matter where the train is going, especially if you are among those being herded as cattle into boxcars bound for the furnaces of the Nazi prison camps!
I am an educator and I believe that ideas (whether they be about religion, politics, economics, or morality) are like trains. They have tremendous power and energy. They are always directional. They always have consequences. Ideas never lie stagnant. They always bear fruit. Yes, there is joy is in the journey, but the destination does matter. Good ideas take us to good places and bad ideas take us to bad places. With our ideas we will always travel either toward the freedom found in the self-evident truth endowed to us by our Creator or toward the slavery that is so predictable in the power plays of pedagogues, politicians, demagogues, and despots.
Thousands of years ago a Jewish psalmist sang out, “Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth!” Later, Jesus Christ Himself proclaimed that by following His way the blind would see and the oppressed would be set free. Perhaps there is some wisdom in these ancient words. Perhaps during this holiday season—this Holy-Day season—we would all do well to remember that trains indeed are directional. They have predictable paths that lead somewhere. One path will lead to freedom for the slave and sight for the blind, but on the other path we will always find ourselves standing elbow to elbow with a cavalcade of blind men proudly singing praises to an emperor wearing no clothes.
Maybe, just maybe, the magic of Christmas—of peace on earth and good will toward men, of Emmanuel: God with us, of joy to the world, of silent night and holy night—can only be had by choosing the right train and following the right path after all.
Talking Points With President Piper is a weekly column featured in the Examiner-Enterprise newspaper. In addition to serving as the Oklahoma Wesleyan President, Dr. Everett Piper is also a frequent guest commentator on a variety of talk radio programs across the nation, as well as a published author and essayist.