A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker



I've got to be honest: I haven't seen "The Phantom Menace." I probably won't for a while, even though I'm interested in seeing the movie. I'm just not . . . you know, passionate about it.

At least, I'm not passionate enough to stand in line to buy a ticket, then stand in another line to get into the theater, then stand in another line to get my popcorn and soda. I'll stand in one line, maybe two (especially if the second line involves Dr Pepper). But that's where I draw the line on lines. Any more line-standing than that is either immoral, illegal or part of an international conspiracy designed by the Trilateral Commission to catch us with our queues down. Or up, as the case may be.

Still, you have to admire the . . . what shall we call it? . . . fervor of those who waited in line for weeks to buy "Phantom Menace" tickets. One college student in our community camped on the sidewalk outside the theater for 41 days. I'm in awe of that kind of tenacity -- and a little frightened by it. When I was in college, I once camped on the sidewalk for tickets to the biggest basketball game of the season. But that was only overnight. And it was for basketball.

But 41 days? For movie tickets? Back in those days, I had a hard enough time staying focused on going to class for 41 days. I don't know what it would have taken to get me to camp on a sidewalk for 41 days, but it probably would have involved a certain dark-haired cheerleader.

These days, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't camp on the sidewalk for movie tickets -- or even for basketball tickets, believe it or not. Life's priorities have shifted, and entertainment occupies a lower rung on my personal Ladder of Values. The things I do value rarely require sidewalk camping -- for which I'm grateful. But experience teaches that there is a cost associated with anything of worth, and a price that must be paid at the Box Office of Life for the things that we value.

Faith, for example, is among the Things I Value Most. I like to think that I would be willing to die for my faith. But God hasn't required that of me -- yet. Instead, God seems to be more interested in having me live for my faith -- to be, in Bible terms, "an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." In some ways, it's harder to do that than it would be to die for my faith. But that's the price I must pay if I truly value my beliefs.

My family occupies the next few rungs on my Ladder of Values. Thankfully, I've never had to camp on the sidewalk for them. But I've camped in the snow with my son's Scout troop. I've slept on the floor at my daughter's bedside during late-night asthma attacks. I've dozed fitfully in a chair while waiting for teenagers who are three hours late getting home from a date. I've shifted to the sofa when my snoring annoyed my wife (OK, the fact that she pushed me out of bed provided additional motivation). To be honest, I wouldn't have chosen any of those sleeping accommodations for myself. But when you love people and value your relationship with them, you pay the price -- whatever it is.

The same is true of anything we truly value. Do we value liberty? Then every once in a while we're going to have to fight -- and possibly die -- to protect it. Do we value free speech? Then occasionally we're going to have to give up the floor and allow someone else to espouse beliefs and ideas that are diametrically opposed to our own. Do we value human dignity? Then we need to be prepared to share with others who are less fortunate.

Values aren't free. They cost -- sometimes a lot. That's why we need to be careful about what we choose to value. Eventually, there's a price to be paid, and we need to be sure it's worth it.

Especially if it means we end up camping on the sidewalk.

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--- (c) Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and