“Colonel, thank you for waiting for me.”
The LTC glanced up from his book and squinted at me through the dimly lit room. Firelight from the fireplace created shadows across his face and reflected off his round glasses. I could see he was holding a massively annotated Bible on his lap from which he was reading. As he recognized me approaching, his face warmed to a smile.
“Captain! I wasn’t expecting to see you this evening! Please, join me!” He gestured to the threadbare high-back chair to his left.
This room in our club has been the scene of many discussions, debates, and, rumor has it, an actual duel. Little read books line the shelves and gold framed oil portraits of long-forgotten military leaders hang on darkened walls; they scowl down with a look of disdain at the current generation.
As I settled into my chair, the LTC poured a second glass of whisky from the crystal decanter and handed it to me.
“Looking for a loophole, Colonel?”
“Excuse me, Captain?”
“I see you are reviewing your Bible.”
The LTC chuckled. “Oh, this… well, just reminding myself of some universal truths.”
“Indeed, Mon Colonel,” I said, lifting my glass in a lazy toast.
The LTC reciprocated with a tilt of his glass and a nod.
“Why do you think this book is so important, Captain?”
“The Bible? Well, your immortal soul notwithstanding, it gives us certain moral imperatives to live by. I suspect this is the answer you are looking for.”
“Actually, no.” The LTC took a sip from his glass and carefully placed it on the end table. He placed his left hand on the written words of his opened Bible and took a deep breath. He closed his eyes and from the fire I could see an image of devout introspection. His meditation completed, but his eyes still closed, the LTC began to speak:
“This book, gives us the impetus… the opportunity… to make the greatest of leaps possible. This book provides the groundwork for accepting future risk.”
“You lost me, Colonel.”
“Walk with me, Captain, on this intellectual journey. Voyage avec moi.”
I nestled back in my chair and took a cautious sip of my whisky. Tonight was shaping up to be interesting.
“What is risk, Captain?”
“Risk? Well, risk is the quantifiable potentiality that a certain outcome will go against your perceived desirable outcome.”
“So risk can be minimal, catastrophic, or neutral.”
“Well, if you come to the club here for a dinner of roast beef, which you love, you ‘risk’ that roast beef is not going to be on the menu. When you arrive and discover that, indeed, it is not on the menu that evening, but pheasant is… a dish you crave even more than roast beef, but is only rarely served, you are delighted! But in a sense, the risk that roast beef would not be available, did, in fact, come to fruition.”
“Well… yes… that is valid.”
“So the manifestation of a perceived negative outcome is not necessarily always negative.”
“No, Colonel, you are correct. There are times where it can be actually welcomed.”
The LTC took another sip from his crystal glass.
“What does all risk have in common?”
“Ummmm… I don’t know. It all happens in the future?”
The LTC grinned and placed the glass on the end table again. He sat forward in his chair and looked intently at me. You could see the internal animation beginning to manifest in his body.
“Exactly! Well done, my friend! All risk takes place in the future. What is more important is that for us to have the understanding of risk, we must have the understanding of temporal contingencies. We must have a deeply rooted concept of faith.”
I returned the LTC’s excitement with a blank, baffled stare.
“Colonel… you lost me.”
The LTC slumped back in his chair and he nodded more to himself and the ghosts that surrounded us in the drawing room.
“Captain, this is a book of faith,” he said patting the still-opened page of his Bible, “not faith in a cosmological sense, at least not for the purposes of this conversation. This is a book of faith that the future holds the possibility of an outcome that is superior to where we are now. Faith requires risk, risk that we are wrong, risk that we have the guidelines incorrectly interpreted, risk that our actions today may or may not yield us the results that we are looking for tomorrow.”
I nodded, curious as to where this would lead us.
“Without faith, there can’t be future anticipation. Without the risk of loss, there can be no faith. This book teaches us to embrace that risk, to anticipate the future, knowing the future is uncertain, to find comfort in the wisdom of those who have gone before us and use that knowledge to mitigate the risk of the future. This transcends the spiritual and governs our civic and commercial lives as well. By embracing faith, and, therefore, risk, we are willing to engage in political and commercial activities that potentially yield greater outcomes than our current situation. Those who have abandoned risk, have abandoned faith. By extension, they have sacrificed their own humanity and have become the equivalent of farm animals being husbanded by an overarching societal farmer.”
I sat back and thought about what he was saying.
“So, Colonel, our country, our commerce, our spiritual and temporal existence are governed by an individual acceptance of risk?”
“And risk can only exist if faith is also present.”
“For without risk, there is no need for faith, and, by extension, no need for freedom.”
The LTC closed his eyes again. His hand gently caressed the open page of his Bible.
“Captain, this country was… is… a result of Divine Providence. We were forged in conflict and have embraced conflict as a means for securing our truth and our development. You were the one who told me the word Israel means ‘one who struggles’… our two traditions are based on that, are they not?… The struggling with God, the struggle to accept the risk and move steadfast in the knowledge the risk is present. There is a great desire by many to minimize, or even eliminate our risk completely, usually by surrendering our faith to those who would make our decisions for us. While this very well may eliminate our risk, what does it ultimately make us?”
“Farm animals, Colonel.”