Thursday, November 29, 2007

Eisenhower and What We Stand For

Been reading Michael Korda's biography of Eisenhower these past few weeks. It's an OK book about a most interesting figure. I was struck by Korda's account of Eisenhower's speech at Guildhall, London upon being honored for his leadership of the Allied armies. I was so taken by the excerpts, that I went online to see if I could find the text of the speech.

I found the site of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, which contains all of Ike's speeches. This led to a couple of hours of perusing through trivia and treasure. But to the point... the Guildhall speech:

Ike's speech there touched upon something that has been skirting in my mind on and off this fall: what is it that we stand for (of course there are also times when we must clarify what we will stand against). After some surprisingly eloquent words (from a man who as president would mangle English syntax with obtuse and flaccid politico-speak) about English/American differences, he gives us this gem about the ties that bind England and America:

Yet kinship among nations is not determined in such measurements as proximity of size and age. Rather we should turn to those inner things--call them what you will--I mean those intangibles that are the real treasures free men possess.

To preserve his freedom of worship, his equality before law, his liberty to speak and act as he sees fit, subject only to provisions that he trespass not upon similar rights of others--a Londoner will fight. So will a citizen of Abilene.

When we consider these things, then the valley of the Thames draws closer to the farms of Kansas and the plains of Texas.

To my mind it is clear that when two peoples will face the tragedies of war to defend the same spiritual values, the same treasured rights, then in the deepest sense those two are truly related. So even as I proclaim my undying Americanism, I am bold enough and exceedingly proud to claim the basis of kinship to you of London.

From there he speaks at length of the courage of the British during the war, the hospitality of Londoners, the challenges of bringing the two peoples together, and their eventual triumph over Nazi aggression. As he brings his speech to a close, he gives us yet more treasure:

My most cherished hope is that after Japan joins the Nazis in utter defeat, neither my country nor yours need ever again summon its sons and daughters from their peaceful pursuits to face the tragedies of battle. But--a fact important for both of us to remember--neither London nor Abilene, sisters under the skin, will sell her birthright for physical safety, her liberty for mere existence.

No petty differences in the world of trade, traditions or national pride should ever blind us to our identities in priceless values.

If we keep our eyes on this guidepost, then no difficulties along our path of mutual co-operation can ever be insurmountable. Moreover, when this truth has permeated to the remotest hamlet and heart of all peoples, then indeed may we beat our swords into plowshares and all nations can enjoy the fruitfulness of the earth.

Now there are statements that call for reflection. Perhaps Eisenhower, in his dealings with Stalin, had already glimpsed the ideological struggle that was to come in the cold war. But in any case, he saw fit not to use victory in Europe as an occasion for back-slapping and chest thumping. Rather he called for the Allies to remember ideals: freedom of worship, speech, equality before law. Let these spiritual truths be our guidepost, he says.

Fine thoughts indeed.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Thanksgiving and Providence

I must remain true to my quixotic impossible dream of turning our hearts toward a Thanksgiving season.... Dig, if you will, the picture: an oasis of warm hearted gratitude nestled between the macabe bacchanalia that is Halloween and the calliope of commercialism that has become Christmas. Is it not somewhat astonishing that our nation is one that has had the audacity to enshrine gratitude by establishing an annual observation of Thanksgiving...not thanksgiving to the ever-protective paternal state (they get that 365 days a year in North Korea), but just a general Thanksgiving for blessings enjoyed.

Last year, as part of my monthlong celebration, I read through Plymouth Plantation, the account of William Bradford, the governor of the Plymouth colony. It's a rich story of faith, adventure, trial, error, and perseverance. However, for this month's Thanksgiving preparation, I'm reading theology: John Flavel's The Mystery of Providence.
Flavel, an English puritan of the 15th century, was a prolific writer, and is quite readable in the edition edited by Banner of Truth trust. In this little volume, Flavel undertakes to explain the doctrine of Providence and express the comfort that comes from it. "It is a great support and solace of the saints in all distresses that befall them here," writes Flavel, "that there is a wise Spirit sitting in all the wheels of motion, and governing the most eccentric creatures and their most pernicious designs to blessed and happy issues. And, indeed, it were not worth while to live in a world devoid of God and Providence."
I find that God's superintending of all events is not a doctrine of fatalism, but a doctrine that brings great hope and joy...and this is the attitude that Flavel takes as well. He gives us many reasons to rejoice in Providence, and I'll be reflecting on those reasons as I prepare for Thanksgiving.
One place where Flavel begins is God's providence in our "formation and protection in the womb." On this subject, he reflects not only on body but also our human endowment with a "reasonable soul". Here we have a fit topic for reflection as we enter into a season of thanksgiving: what bodily health and vitality do we enjoy. What are the scope of our physical activities. What physical attributes has God blessed us with: strength, endurance, dexterity, keen senses? How have we enjoyed the blessing of having a spirit in us that is unique to humanity? Even in our what ways do they increase our dependence upon God's grace? What has God worked through our physical and spiritual attributes? All of these things lead us to give thanks to God.
Now go forth and do something physical today -- run a few laps, work in the yard, stretch your muscles...and give thanks to God for this Providence.
Soli Deo Gloria