Here is a more official version of the sermon distributed by the American Bankers Association. If you hear it some Sunday morning, know that your pastor has taken a day off -- intellectually, more like a year.
Two words describe it: "Boola, boola."
This is from the CHARLOTTE [North Carolina] OBSERVER (Aug. 13).
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Thinking about Y2K: Moses, Orson Welles and Bill Gates
Most of us carry important dates around with us, dates that are indelibly written in our memories. Our own birthday, for example, and the birthdays of loved ones. And yes, even the death of a loved one.
There are other dates that many of us share in common. December 25. March 17, when everyone in the world is Irish. July 4th. December 7, 1941. And my personal favorite, April 15.
Then there is January 1, 2000. That date's been written and talked about a great deal, too. I'll get to that in a moment.
But first, let's go back to an earlier date, almost 61 years ago. October 30, 1938. It's Sunday evening, 8 p.m. in the East. The next day will be Halloween. The place is Grovers Mill, New Jersey. And there in Grovers Mill, as tens of thousands of radio listeners across the country tune in, a brave local militia is fighting a losing battle against invaders from outer space. Well, sort of.
Many of those listeners thought they were hearing an account of an actual alien invasion of the East Coast of the United States. They were listening, of course, to a radio play by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater on the Air -- the ``War of the Worlds.'' Those who tuned in late didn't hear the opening announcement. They missed an important kernel of information -- this was a radio drama. A piece of fiction realistically and cleverly played out as though it were actually happening.
Orson Welles tricked a lot of people with his little Halloween treat that evening. In Indianapolis, a woman ran into a church and screamed ``New York is destroyed. It's the end of the world.''
In Brevard, North Carolina, five college students fainted. Scores of people in Providence, Rhode Island, frantically called the electric company and told them to shut off all the lights before they were discovered.
A woman in Boston told the Globe she could actually see the fire on the horizon. Which is a pretty good trick when you're in Boston and the fire is in New Jersey. A man in San Francisco volunteered to fight. A woman in Pittsburgh attempted suicide.
October 30, 1938. If you hadn't tuned in early enough, you didn't get the right story. Or as one East Coast newspaper (Washington Post) says in its advertising: ``If you don't get it, you don't get it.''
A lot of people didn't ``get it'' on October 30, 1938. And when I think of Orson Welles' famous radio broadcast, I think of January 1, 2000. Or as some people like to refer to it, Y2K.
And the question for each of us is: When Y2K arrives, will we have the full story? Or will we have tuned in too late to get that important kernel of information, as many did on the night of October 30, 1938?
Will we ``get it?''
Let's talk about Y2K for a moment. How did we get where we are today? What's ahead? And what does it really mean?
I doubt that even the wildly inventive mind of Orson Welles could have dreamed up a fantasy as improbable, yet as convincing, as Y2K. Who would have thought, after all, that America could be done in not by aliens from outer space, but by a bug in a computer?
How did it happen? Well, as many of us now know, those early computer programmers had to work with memory-challenged computers. The first IBM PC back in 1981 didn't even come with a hard drive, like today's PCs. In fact, today's PCs have two-thousand times the memory of the first IBM PC -- for a lot less money, I might add.
But the roots of the problem go back even further. Computer programmers in the 1950s and 1960s had to do with less, not more, memory. So they took a shortcut. They used a two-digit number for the year instead of a four-digit number. That sounded like a great idea back in, say, 1965. It doesn't sound so great in 1999. Actually, force of habit led many programmers to continue to use the two digits into the early 1990s, even though data storage was no longer a problem.
Nothing lives so long as a bad idea.
I called it a ``shortcut.'' In fact, it was a multi-billion-dollar foul-up. Governments, businesses, airlines, banks, power companies and institutions around the globe have been spending billions and billions of dollars to upgrade their computer systems and make sure everything goes smoothly on Midnight, December 31.
Will things go smoothly?
You've heard the dire warnings, the off-the-wall forecasts and the downright silly predictions. Life insurance companies, they say, could bill us for coverage for the past 100 years. Airplanes won't get off the ground. And that could be the good news. Our bank accounts will show zero. Our mortgages will require another 100 years of payments. Hospital monitoring equipment will stop monitoring. The lights will go out. The phones will fail. We'll be plunged into a deep, cold winter without heat, electricity, money or -- worst of all, pizza delivery.
And yes, some of us will report actually seeing a fire on the horizon.
Grovers Mill all over again. Orson Welles would be pleased.
Quite a few jokes have been made about Y2K as well. Perhaps you've heard that Bill Gates has just announced the official release date for the new Windows 2000 software.
It's to be the second quarter of 1901.
Let me be clear: I don't believe any of the truly bad stuff is going to happen. Sure, there will be glitches. A financial record here and there will need to be updated. Some phone calls may not go through. The occasional traffic signal may not work. But will anyone seriously believe that he or she might have another 100 years left to pay on the mortgage? Lights may go out in a few places. I believe most of those problems will be isolated. Food shortages? Perhaps an item here or there will be in short supply temporarily. Especially if we all panic and run out to buy milk the week before.
But as one phone company likes to say: ``On Jan. 1, the sun will rise, you will continue to breathe and you will have a dial tone.''
I'm not worried about America's ability to solve the technical problems of Y2K. But there is something that does worry me: misinformation. The kind of misinformation that led some people on the night of October 30, 1938 to panic. The kind of panic that comes from not knowing. Not understanding. Not getting it.
I encourage you to understand Y2K. To understand what will happen. What can happen. And what probably won't happen on January 1st. Read about Y2K. Know what is expected. None of us can predict the future, but there are a lot of very well informed people saying that we will get through this.
It's especially important that we -- as members of our community, believers in God and members of the family of faith -- set the example. We want to go into the new Millennium with hope, eagerness and faith in this new Century of promise. We don't want to be crouched in our basements with candles, matches and guns.
There are, after all, two ways to cross the Red Sea. With Moses, who with God's help, led the children of Israel into a bright, hopeful future. Or with Pharaoh, who in trying to preserve the old, hurled his chariots, his officers and his army into the sea.
Think about the effects of our actions on those around us. Is it wise to have little extra food on hand? Sure. Some bottled water? Perhaps. Some cash? Well, it is a long holiday weekend. Most experts say there won't be food or water shortages on January 1, 2000. They suggest that families lay in a few days supply of food and water, just in case.
Things will work. Hospitals will be open. Police and fire departments will be prepared. Power companies will be fully staffed. Banks will keep your money safe. They're backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the FDIC; and the federal banking regulators have examined every bank in the country for Y2K readiness. The airlines will be ready. And governments at every level will be prepared. Whatever you do, don't bury your money in the backyard. It's safest in a bank, where it is protected and insured by the federal government.
So in preparing for January 1, 2000, do what you can. Trust God. Trust those you love. Be informed. And take a few practical steps. Save copies of your financial records. Keep a few days' worth of cash on you. Have a little extra food and water around the house if that makes you feel better. Keep an adequate supply of medicines and over-the-counter drugs on hand. If it's a prescription medicine that you're required to take, put aside enough for a few weeks. Check out your personal computer to see if it's Y2K-ready. Make sure there are fresh batteries in your flashlights. Keep some candles on hand. If you have a fireplace, put some dry wood aside. If you have an outdoor grill, make sure you have some fuel on hand. But don't bring the grill in the house. Carbon-monoxide kills. Put some gas in the family car. In other words, do the same things you might do if you knew a storm was passing through the area. That's what the Red Cross advises.
It might also be a good opportunity to get to know your neighbors a little better. Talk to them about what they're doing to get ready. Remake those acquaintances. Friends and family can help one another when problems occur.
And, of course, be prepared for con artists. They will most certainly be out in force between now and January 1. Watch out for telephone scams especially. Don't let someone tell you that your money will be safest in their ``offshore'' bank. Don't believe anyone who wants you to buy a $175.00 survival guide, or food and supplies for a family of four for two weeks -- for just $5,000.
In other words, prepare as best you can. Then trust God for the rest.
Most important, we should understand what Y2K really means. It's a computer headache that experts are working to fix right now, not an alien invasion of New Jersey. And not the end of the world. As members of God's community, we can and should play a leadership role in helping our own families, friends and community prepare for Y2K. By understanding it. And by not being afraid. We want to go into the next Century as God intended, with hope, knowledge and the promise of a bright future.
And the best way to do that is with the right information. Knowledge. And faith. So that when we wake up on January 1, we can be confident that our money will be safe, the lights will work and we'll still get a dial tone.
And I'll see you here on Sunday, January 2nd.