The Revolutions of July

[My article appears at Townhall.com today -- DRS]

On July 14, 1789, Thomas Jefferson was serving as America’s Ambassador to France. The author of the Declaration of Independence in another July, thirteen-years earlier, was an eyewitness to the political unrest leading to the storming of a political prison called The Bastille. Though the fortress housed only seven inmates at the moment, including four forgers, it remains the iconic symbol of beginning of The French Revolution.

Charles_Thévenin,_The_Storming_of_the_Bastille_on_14_July_1789,_ca._1793Our Constitution had been ratified a year earlier, and George Washington had recently been inaugurated as our first President, so there was great interest in America about what was going on in France 225 years ago. After all, the French had been extremely helpful to us during our successful struggle to, as Jefferson phrased it, “dissolve the political bands” that connected us to the British monarchy. Americans were therefore understandably sympathetic with a movement against monarchial tyranny in France.The American and French Revolutions are linked in history largely because of chronology, but they were vastly different affairs. One led to a new birth of freedom—the other to terror and tyranny, becoming the prototype for unspeakable horrors to come.

Most Americans are familiar with a phrase from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address on January 20, 1961—that whole “Ask not…” thing. But I think the most important thing JFK said that day was this:

And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God. We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. [Emphasis added]

But what is happening in our nation right now may resemble what happened in France in 1789 more than what happened in Philadelphia in 1776. For many Americans, especially those on the left, the cry of “Liberty – Equality – Fraternity” is much more resonant than the one about “Life – Liberty – and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

It is in the parsing of those vitally important words that we find the keys to understanding where we came from, where we are, and where we are going. One revolution was about individual rights and dreams. The other was about “the people” as a group and the highest virtue being “the greater good.”

When Thomas Jefferson wrote about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”in the Declaration of Independence, he was borrowing from 17th century English philosopher John Locke who wrote about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.” Jefferson’s use of this language was clearly designed to describe the rights of individual people to live free, be free, and pursue their dreams in a free marketplace. Those thoughts were very much present in that Philadelphia birthing room.

The French Revolution, on the other hand—though similar to what happened here in America, in the sense of changing things and breaking free from an old order—had little to do with individual rights.

It was all about collectivism.

And in many ways, the French Revolution is the ancestor of all totalitarian systems to follow. Hitler, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Lenin, and all other political gangsters were heirs of Robespierre, and later Napoleon. Those tyrannical manifestations were not misguided aberrations—distortions of something that started out good (as in, “Lenin was cool, too bad Stalin messed it all up”)—the seeds of the horror were present at the beginning. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 18th century Enlightenment philosopher, wrote about volonté générale or “general will,” and the Jacobins, followed by others, ran with it. In their thinking, “the will of the people” could only be expressed by enlightened leaders.

Yes, our revolution indeed drew a measure of strength from the Enlightenment, but it was of the earlier Lockean variety. America’s use of Enlightenment concepts was tempered by something else; something that set it apart from what happened in France—a spiritual foundation.

Vive la revolution – Vive la difference.

The French not only declared war on the monarchy, they also attacked Christianity, replacing it with a religion of the state and introducing the worship of secularism. Sound familiar?

In America, it was very different. I am not one of those who spends a lot of time trying to prove the Christian bona fides of every founding father, but I do believe that the influence of what was called The Great Awakening, which ended about twenty years before the shot heard around the world was fired, was still very much a part of our national fabric.

And another such movement, often referred to as the Second Great Awakening, began while the French were unsuccessfully trying to figure out how to be free. To ignore those religious and cultural movements in America is to miss an important piece of the puzzle. The very concepts of liberty, equality, and fraternity sound nice and make for great propaganda. But in the end, without virtue born of something deeper and greater, even the best rhetoric is mocked by what actually happens when human nature runs amuck. This is why all totalitarian regimes like to call their realms things like The People’s Republic of China, or Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or The People’s Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

We need to beware of those who share our vocabulary but use a different dictionary.

The reason it has all worked and endured so well in this land is because we are a nation “under God.” There, I said it. There is no real liberty without that. All attempts at actual freedom end up moving toward tyranny without some sense of higher purpose and power. I believe firmly in the separation of church and state. But minus positive religious influence, a nation cannot long remain free.

C. S. Lewis said it very well in The Screwtape Letters 70 years ago:

Hidden in the heart of this striving for Liberty there was also a deep hatred of personal freedom. That invaluable man Rousseau first revealed it. In his perfect democracy, only the state religion is permitted, slavery is restored, and the individual is told that he has really willed (though he didn’t know it) whatever the Government tells him to do. From that starting point, via Hegel (another indispensable propagandist on our side), we easily contrived both the Nazi and the Communist state. Even in England we were pretty successful. I heard the other day that in that country a man could not, without a permit, cut down his own tree with his own axe, make it into planks with his own saw, and use the planks to build a tool shed in his own garden.

Sound familiar?

 

 

THE DON KROAH SHOW–AWARD WINNING

One of the “hats” I wear on occasion is one that says “broadcaster.”

[Note: Really don't have a hat with that on it. Don't wear hats. Ever.]

This afternoon, I’ll be sitting in as guest host for a Washington, DC drive time radio talk show — THE DON KROAH SHOW on WAVA (105.1 fm, and on the web at: www.wava.com).

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I’ve had the privilege of sitting in for Don more than more 100 times over the years. He’s a good friend, and the reason he’s away is to attend the Virginia Broadcasters Awards event in Virginia Beach. He and WAVA have been nominated for four awards: Outstanding Website, Outstanding Commercial, and the Don Kroah Show, for Outstanding Feature Reporting and for Best Documentary or Public Service Program.

The show airs today from 4:05 – 7:00pm.

As Charles Osgood is fond of saying, “See you on the radio!”

D-Day in Poetry and Prayer

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Nearly one hundred years ago, the late poet Robert Frost penned the famous lines: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” His metaphor has endured as testament to the importance of making choices based on factors other than superficiality and popularity.

Shortly after Frost’s death in 1963, President John F. Kennedy traveled to Amherst College in Massachusetts, where Frost had taught for many years, to deliver a eulogy about the famous wordsmith he had invited to participate in his inauguration. That day, Kennedy shared a line that, like Frost’s about those fabled two roads, has since morphed into something beyond its original intent and focus. In my opinion, it was one of the best things Kennedy ever said: “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”

Next to ingratitude, forgetfulness is the most serious indicator of cultural decline…

[READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT TOWNHALL.COM]

The Minister’s Fainting Fits – By C.H. Spurgeon

[Charles Haddon Spurgeon is remembered as the prince of preachers. His influence in Victorian England was unsurpassed. But Spurgeon had a secret--well, it wasn't really a big secret, and was, in fact, well known. He battled depression. The kind of depression unique to ministers in his day--and ours. About once a year I revisit two of Spurgeon's lectures. This one is as timely today as it was in 1870 -- DRS]

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As it is recorded that David, in the heat of battle, waxed faint, so may it be written of all the servants of the Lord. Fits of depression come over the most of us. Usually cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy. There maybe here and there men of iron, to whom wear and tear work no perceptible detriment, but surely the rust frets even these; and as for ordinary men, the Lord knows, and makes them to know, that they are but dust. Knowing by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited therewith at seasons by no means few or far between, I thought it might be consolatory to some of my brethren if I gave my thoughts thereon, that younger men might not fancy that some strange thing had happened to them when they became for a season possessed by melancholy; and that sadder men might know that one upon whom the sun has shone right joyously did not always walk in the light.

It is not necessary by quotations from the biographies of eminent ministers to prove that seasons of fearful prostration have fallen to the lot of most, if not all of them. The life of Luther might suffice to give a thousand instances, and he was by no means of the weaker sort. His great spirit was often in the seventh heaven of exultation, and as frequently on the borders of despair. His very death-bed was not free from tempests, and he sobbed himself into his last sleep like a great wearied child. Instead of multiplying Gases, let us dwell upon the reasons why these things are permitted why it is that the children of light sometimes walk in the thick darkness; why the heralds of the daybreak find themselves at times in tenfold night.

Is it not first that they are men? Being men, they are compassed with infirmity, and heirs of sorrow. Well said the wise man in the Apocrypha, (Ecclus xl. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5-8) “Great travail is created for all men, and a heavy yoke on the sons of Adam, from the day that they go out of their mother’s womb unto that day that they return to the mother of all things—namely, their thoughts and fear of their hearts, and their imagination of things that they wail for, and the day of death. From him that sitteth in the glorious throne, to him that sitteth beneath in the earth and ashes; from him that is clothed in blue silk, and weareth a crown, to him that is clothed in simple linen—wrath, envy, trouble, and unquietness, and fear of death and rigour, and such things come to both man and beast, but sevenfold to the ungodly.” Grace guards us from much of this, but because we have not more of grace we still suffer even from ills preventible. Even under the economy of redemption it is most clear that we are to endure infirmities, otherwise there were no need of the promised Spirit to help us in them. It is of need be that we are sometimes in heaviness. Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others, that they may learn sympathy with the Lord’s suffering people, and so may be fitting shepherds of an ailing flock. Disembodied spirits might have been sent to proclaim the word, but they could not have entered into the feelings of those who, being in this body, do groan, being burdened; angels might have been ordained evangelists, but their celestial attributes would have disqualified them from having compassion on the ignorant; men of marble might have been fashioned, but their impassive natures would have been a sarcasm upon our feebleness, and a mockery of our wants. Men, and men subject to human passions, the all-wise God has chosen to be his vessels of grace; hence these tears, hence these perplexities and castings down.

Moreover, most of us are in some way or other unsound physically. Here and there we meet with an old man who could not remember that ever he was laid aside for a day; but the great mass of us labour under some form or other of infirmity, either in body or mind. Certain bodily maladies, especially those connected with the digestive organs, the liver, and the spleen, are time fruitful fountains of despondency; and, let a man strive as he may against their influence, there will be hours and circumstances in which they will for awhile overcome him. As to mental maladies, is any man altogether sane? Are we not all a little off the balance? Some minds appear to have a gloomy tinge essential to their very individuality; of them it may be said, “Melancholy marked them for her own;” fine minds withal, and ruled by noblest principles, but yet most prone to forget the silver lining, and to remember only the cloud. Such men may sing with the old poet (Thomas Washbourne.)

 “Our hearts are broke, our harps unstringed be,
Our only music’s sighs and groans,
Our songs are to the tune of lachrymœ,
We’re fretted all to skin and bones.”

These infirmities may be no detriment to a man’s career of special usefulness; they may even have been imposed upon him by divine wisdom as necessary qualifications for his peculiar course of service. Some plants owe their medicinal qualities to the marsh in which they grow; others to the shades in which alone they flourish. There are precious fruits put forth by the moon as well as by the sun. Boats need ballast as well as sail; a drag on the carriage-wheel is no hindrance when the road runs downhill. Pain has, probably, in some cases developed genius; hunting out the soul which otherwise might have slept like a lion in its den. Had it not been for the broken wing, some might have lost themselves in the clouds, some even of those choice doves who now bear the olive-branch in their mouths and show the way to the ark. But where in body and mind there are predisposing causes to lowness of spirit, it is no marvel if in dark moments the heart succumbs to them; the wonder in many cases is—and if inner lives could be written, men would see it so—how some ministers keep at their work at all, and still wear a smile upon their countenances. Grace has its triumphs still, and patience has its martyrs; martyrs none the less to be honoured because the flames kindle about their spirits rather than their bodies, and their burning is unseen of human eyes. The ministries of Jeremiahs are as acceptable as those of Isaiahs, and even the sullen Jonah is a true prophet of the Lord, as Nineveh felt full well. Despise not the lame, for it is written that they take the prey; but honour those who, being faint, are yet pursuing. The tender-eyed Leah was more fruitful than the beautiful Rachel, and the griefs of Hannah were more divine than the boastings of Peninnah. “Blessed are they that mourn,” said the Man of Sorrows, and let none account them otherwise when their tears are salted with grace. We have the treasure of the gospel in earthen vessels, and if there be a flaw in the vessel here and there, let none wonder.

Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin—are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth? The kingdom comes not as we would, the reverend name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep. How can we be otherwise than sorrowful, while men believe not our report, and the divine arm is not revealed? All mental work tends to weary and to depress, for much study is a weariness of the flesh; but ours is more than mental work—it is heart work, the labour of our inmost soul. How often, on Lord’s-day evenings, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break. Probably, if we were more like Paul, and watched for souls at a nobler rate, we should know more of what it is to be eaten up by the zeal of the Lord’s house. It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed; we are to spend and to be spent, not to lay ourselves up in lavender, and nurse our flesh. Such soul-travail as that of a faithful minister will bring on occasional seasons of exhaustion, when heart and flesh will fail. Moses’ hands grew heavy in intercession, and Paul cried out, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Even John the Baptist is thought to have had his fainting fits, and the apostles were once amazed, and were sore afraid.

Our position in the church will also conduce to this. A minister fully equipped for his work, will usually be a spirit by himself, above, beyond, and apart from others. The most loving of his people cannot enter into his peculiar thoughts, cares, and temptations. In the ranks, men walk shoulder to shoulder, with many comrades, but as the officer rises in rank, men of his standing are fewer in number. There are many soldiers, few captains, fewer colonels, but only one commander-in-chief. So, in our churches, the man whom the Lord raises as a leader becomes, in the same degree in which he is a superior man, a solitary man. The mountain-tops stand solemnly apart, and talk only with God as he visits their terrible solitudes. Men of God who rise above their fellows into nearer communion with heavenly things, in their weaker moments feel the lack of human sympathy. Like their Lord in Gethsemane, they look in vain for comfort to the disciples sleeping around them; they are shocked at the apathy of their little band of brethren, and return to their secret agony with all the heavier burden pressing upon them, because they have found their dearest companions slumbering. No one knows, but he who has endured it, the solitude of a soul which has outstripped its fellows in zeal for the Lord of hosts: it dares not reveal itself, lest men count it mad; it cannot conceal itself, for a fire burns within its bones: only before the Lord does it find rest. Our Lord’s sending out his disciples by two and two manifested that he knew what was in men; but for such a man as Paul, it seems to me that no helpmeet was found; Barnabas, or Silas, or Luke, were hills too low to hold high converse with such a Himalayan summit as the apostle of the Gentiles. This loneliness, which if I mistake not is felt by many of my brethren, is a fertile source of depression; and our ministers, fraternal meetings, and the cultivation of holy intercourse with kindred minds will, with God’s blessing, help us greatly to escape the snare.

There can be little doubt that sedentary habits have a tendency to create despondency in some constitutions. Burton, in his “Anatomy of Melancholy,” has a chapter upon this cause of sadness; and, quoting from one of the myriad authors whom he lays under contribution, he says—”Students are negligent of their bodies. Other men look to their tools; a painter will wash his pencils; a smith will look to his hammer, anvil, forge; a husbandman will mend his plough-irons, and grind his hatchet if it be dull; a falconer or huntsman will have an especial care of his hawks, hounds, horses, dogs, &c.; a musician will string and unstring his lute; only scholars neglect that instrument (their brain and spirits I mean) which they daily use. Well saith Lucan, “See thou twist not the rope so hard that it break.” To sit long in one posture, poring over a book, or driving a quill, is in itself a taxing of nature; but add to this a badly-ventilated chamber, a body which has long been without muscular exercise, and a heart burdened with many cares, and we have all the elements for preparing a seething cauldron of despair, especially in the dim months of fog—

 “When a blanket wraps the day,
When the rotten woodland drips,
And the leaf is stamped in clay.”

Let a man be naturally as blithe as a bird, he will hardly be able to bear up year after year against such a suicidal process; he will make his study a prison and his books the warders of a gaol, while nature lies outside his window calling him to health and beckoning him to joy. He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of birds in the woods, the rippling of rills among the rushes, and the sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul grows heavy. A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours, ramble in the beech woods? umbrageous calm, would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive. A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best.

 “Heaviest the heart is in a heavy air,
Ev’ry wind that rises blows away despair.”

The ferns and the rabbits, the streams and the trouts, the fir trees and the squirrels, the primroses and the violets, the farm-yard, the new-mown hay, and the fragrant hops—these are the best medicine for hypochondriacs, the surest tonics for the declining, the best refreshments for the weary. For lack of opportunity, or inclination, these great remedies are neglected, and the student becomes a self-immolated victim.

The times most favourable to fits of depression, so far as I have experienced, may be summed up in a brief catalogue. First among them I must mention the hour of great success. When at last a long-cherished desire is fulfilled, when God has been glorified greatly by our means, and a great triumph achieved, then we are apt to faint. It might be imagined that amid special favours our soul would soar to heights of ecstacy, and rejoice with joy unspeakable, but it is generally the reverse. The Lord seldom exposes his warriors to the perils of exultation over victory; he knows that few of them can endure such a test, and therefore dashes their cup with bitterness. See Elias after the fire has fallen from heaven, after Baal’s priests have been slaughtered and the rain has deluged the barren land For him no notes of self-complacent music, no strutting like a conqueror in robes of triumph; he flees from Jezebel, and feeling the revulsion of his intense excitement, he prays that he may die, lie who must never see death, yearns after the rest of the grave, even as Caesar, the world’s monarch, in his moments of pain cried like a sick girl. Poor human nature cannot bear such strains as heavenly triumphs bring to it; there must come a reaction. Excess of joy or excitement must be paid for by subsequent depressions. While the trial lasts, the strength is equal to the emergency; but when it is over, natural weakness claims the right to show itself. Secretly sustained, Jacob can wrestle all night, but he must limp in the morning when the contest is over, lest he boast himself beyond measure. Paul may be caught up to the third heaven, and hear unspeakable things, but a thorn in time flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, must be the inevitable sequel. Men cannot bear unalloyed happiness; even good men are not yet fit to have “their brows with laurel and with myrtle bound,” without enduring secret humiliation to keep them in their proper place. Whirled from off our feet by a revival, carried aloft by popularity, exalted by success in soul-winning, we should be as the chaff which the wind driveth away, were it not that the gracious discipline of mercy breaks the ships of our vainglory with a strong east wind, and casts us shipwrecked, naked and forlorn, upon the Rock of Ages.

Before any great achievement, some measure of the same depression is very usual. Surveying the difficulties before us, our hearts sink within us. The sons of Anak stalk before us, and we are as grasshoppers in our own sight in their presence. The cities of Canaan are walled up to heaven, and who are we that we should hope to capture them? We are ready to cast down our weapons and take to our heels. Nineveh is a great city, and we would flee unto Tarshish sooner than encounter its noisy crowds. Already we look for a ship which may bear us quietly away from the terrible scene, and only a dread of tempest restrains our recreant footsteps. Such was my experience when I first became a pastor in London. My success appalled me; and the thought of the career which it seemed to open up, so far from elating me, cast me into the lowest depth, out of which I uttered my miserere and found no room for a gloria in excelsis. Who was I that I should continue to lead so great a multitude? I would betake me to my village obscurity, or emigrate to America, and find a solitary nest in the backwoods, where I might be sufficient for the things which would be demanded of me. It was just then that the curtain was rising upon my life-work, and I dreaded what it might reveal. I hope I was not faithless, but I was timorous and filled with a sense of my own unfitness. I dreaded the work which a gracious providence had prepared for me. I felt myself a mere child, and trembled as I heard the voice which said, “Arise, and thresh the mountains, and make them as chaff.” This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry; the cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer benison. So have far better men found it. The scouring of the vessel has fitted it for the Master’s use. Immersion in suffering has preceded the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Fasting gives an appetite for the banquet. The Lord is revealed in the backside of the desert, while his servant keepeth the sheep and waits in solitary awe. The wilderness is the way to Canaan. The low valley leads to the towering mountain. Defeat prepares for victory. The raven is sent forth before the dove. The darkest hour of the night precedes the day-dawn. The mariners go down to the depths, but the next wave makes them mount to the heaven: their soul is melted because of trouble before he bringeth them to their desired haven.

In the midst of a long stretch of unbroken labour, the same affliction may be looked for. The bow cannot be always bent without fear of breaking. Repose is as needful to the mind as sleep to the body. Our Sabbaths are our days of toil, and if we do not rest upon some other day we shall break down. Even the earth must lie fallow and have her Sabbaths, and so must we. Hence the wisdom and compassion of our Lord, when he said to his disciples, “Let us go into the desert and rest awhile.” What! when the people are fainting? When the multitudes are like sheep upon the mountains without a shepherd? Does Jesus talk of rest? When Scribes and Pharisees, like grievous wolves, are rending the flock, does he take his followers on an excursion into a quiet resting place? Does some red-hot zealot denounce such atrocious forgetfulness of present and pressing demands? Let him rave in his folly. The Master knows better than to exhaust his servants and quench the light of Israel. Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength. Look at the mower in the summer a day, with so much to cut down ere the sun sets. He pauses in his labour, is he a sluggard? He looks for his stone, and begins to draw it up and down his scythe, with “rink-a-tink—rink-a-tink—rink-a-tink.” Is that idle music? is he wasting precious moments? How much he might have mown while he has been ringing out those notes on his scythe! But he is sharpening his tool, and he will do far more when once again he gives his strength to those long sweeps which lay the grass prostrate in rows before him. Even thus a little pause prepares the mind for greater service in the good cause. Fishermen must mend their nets, and we must every now and then repair our mental waste and set our machinery in order for future service. To tug the oar from day to day, hike a galley-slave who knows no holidays, suits not mortal men. Mill-streams go on and on for ever, but we must have our pauses and our intervals. Who can help being out of breath when the race is continued without intermission? Even beasts of burden must be turned out to grass occasionally; the very sea pauses at ebb and flood; earth keeps the Sabbath of the wintry months; and man, even when exalted to be God’s ambassador, must rest or faint; must trim his lamp or let it burn low; must recruit his vigour or grow prematurely old. It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less. On, on, on for ever, without recreation, may suit spirits emancipated from this “heavy clay,” but while we are in this tabernacle, we must every now and then cry halt, and serve the Lord by holy inaction and consecrated leisure. Let no tender conscience doubt the lawfulness of going out of harness for awhile, but learn from the experience of others the necessity and duty of taking timely rest.

One crushing stroke has sometimes laid the minister very low. The brother most relied upon becomes a traitor. Judas lifts up his heel against the man who trusted him, and the preacher?s heart for the moment fails him. We are all too apt to look to an arm of flesh, and from that propensity many of our sorrows arise. Equally overwhelming is the blow when an honoured and beloved member yields to temptation, and disgraces the holy name with which lie was named. Anything is better than this. This makes the preacher long for a lodge in some vast wilderness, where he may hide his head for ever, and hear no more the blasphemous jeers of the ungodly. Ten years of toil do not take so much life out of us as we lose in a few hours by Ahithophel the traitor, or Demas the apostate. Strife, also, and division, and slander, and foolish censures, have often laid holy men prostrate, and made them go “as with a sword in their bones.” Hard words wound some delicate minds very keenly. Many of the best of ministers, from the very spirituality of their character, are exceedingly sensitive—too sensitive for such a world as this. “A kick that scarce would move a horse would kill a sound divine.” By experience the soul is hardened to the rough blows which are inevitable in our warfare; but at first these things utterly stagger us, and send us to our homes wrapped in a horror of great darkness. The trials of a true minister are not few, and such as are caused by ungrateful professors are harder to bear than the coarsest attacks of avowed enemies. Let no man who looks for ease of mind and seeks the quietude of life enter the ministry; if he does so he will flee from it in disgust.

To the lot of few does it fall to pass through such a horror of great darkness as that which fell upon me after the deplorable accident at the Surrey Music Hall. I was pressed beyond measure and out of bounds with an enormous weight of misery. The tumult, the panic, the deaths, were day and night before me, anti made life a burden. Then I sang in my sorrow—

 “The tumult of my thoughts
Doth but increase my woe,
My spirit languisheth, my heart
Is desolate and low.”

From that dream of horror I was awakened in a moment by the gracious application to my soul of the text, “Him hath God the Father exalted.” The fact that Jesus is still great, let his servants suffer as they may, piloted me back to calm reason and peace. Should so terrible a calamity overtake any of my brethren, let them both patiently hope and quietly wait for the salvation of God.

When troubles multiply, and discouragements follow each other in long succession, like Job’s messengers, then, too, amid the perturbation of soul occasioned by evil tidings, despondency despoils the heart of all its peace. Constant dropping wears away stones, and the bravest minds feel the fret of repeated afflictions. If a scanty cupboard is rendered a severer trial by the sickness of a wife or the loss of a child, and if ungenerous remarks of hearers are followed by the opposition of deacons and the coolness of members, then, like Jacob, we are apt to cry, “All these things are against me.” When David returned to Ziklag and found the city burned, goods stolen, wives carried off, and his troops ready to stone him, we read, “he encouraged himself in his God;” and well was it for him that he could do so, for he would then have fainted if he had not believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Accumulated distresses increase each other’s weight; they play into each other’s hands, and, like bands of robbers, ruthlessly destroy our comfort. Wave upon wave is severe work for the strongest swimmer. The place where two seas meet strains the most seaworthy keel. If there were a regulated pause between the buffetings of adversity, the spirit would stand prepared; but when they come suddenly and heavily, like the battering of great hailstones, the pilgrim may well be amazed. The last ounce breaks the camel’s back, and when that last ounce is laid upon us, what wonder if we for awhile are ready to give up the ghost!

This evil will also come upon us, we know not why, and then it is all the more difficult to drive it away. Causeless depression is not to he reasoned with, nor can David’s harp charm it away by sweet discoursings. As well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, undefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness. One affords himself no pity when in this case, because it seems so unreasonable, and even sinful to be troubled without manifest cause; and yet troubled the man is, even in the very depths of his spirit. If those who laugh at such melancholy did but feel the grief of it for one hour, their laughter would he sobered into compassion. Resolution might, perhaps, shake it off, but where are we to find the resolution when the whole man is unstrung? The physician and the divine may unite their skill in such cases, and both find their hands full, and more than full. The iron bolt which so mysteriously fastens the door of hope and holds our spirits in gloomy prison, needs a heavenly hand to push it back; and when that hand is seen we cry with the apostle, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” 2 Cor. i. 3, 4. It is the God of all consolation who can—

 “With sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse our poor bosoms of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart.”

Simon sinks till Jesus takes him by the hand. The devil within rends and tears the poor child till time word of authority commands him to come out of him. When we are ridden with horrible fears, and weighed down with an intolerable incubus, we need but the Sun of Righteousness to rise, and the evils generated of our darkness are driven away; but nothing short of this will chase away time nightmare of the soul. Timothy Rogers, the author of a treatise on Melancholy, and Simon Browne, the writer of some remarkably sweet hymns, proved in their own cases how unavailing is the help of man if the Lord withdraw the light from the soul.

If it be enquired why the Valley of the Shadow of Death must so often be traversed by the servants of King Jesus, the answer is not far to find. All this is promotive of the Lord’s mode of working, which is summed up in these words—”Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.” Instruments shall be used, but their intrinsic weakness shall be clearly manifested; there shall be no division of the glory, no diminishing the honour due to the Great Worker. The man shall be emptied of self, and then filled with the Holy Ghost. In his own apprehension he shall be like a sere leaf driven of the tempest, and then shall be strengthened into a brazen wall against the enemies of truth. To hide pride from the worker is the great difficulty. Uninterrupted success and unfading joy in it would be more than our weak heads could bear. Our wine must needs be mixed with water, lest it turn our brains. My witness is, that those who are honoured of their Lord in public, have usually to endure a secret chastening, or to carry a peculiar cross, lest by any means they exalt themselves, and fall into the snare of the devil. How constantly the Lord calls Ezekiel “Son of man”! Amid his soarings into the superlative splendours, just when with eye undimmed he is strengthened to gaze into the excellent glory, the word “Son of man” falls on his ears, sobering the heart which else might have been intoxicated with the honour conferred upon it. Such humbling but salutary messages our depressions whisper in our ears; they tell us in a manner not to be mistaken that we are but men, frail, feeble, apt to faint.

By all the castings down of his servants God is glorified, for they are led to magnify him when again he sets them on their feet, and even while prostrate in the dust their faith yields him praise. They speak all time more sweetly of his faithfulness, and are the more firmly established in his love. Such mature men as sonic elderly preachers are, could scarcely have been produced if they had not been emptied from vessel to vessel, and made to see their own emptiness and the vanity of all things round about them. Glory be to God for the furnace, the hammer, and the file. Heaven shall be all the fuller of bliss because we have been filled with anguish here below, and earth shall be better tilled because of our training in the school of adversity.

The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience. Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness. Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise amid overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. Live by the day—ay, by the hour. Put no trust in frames and feelings. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement. Trust in God alone, and lean not on the reeds of human help. Be not surprised when friends fail you: it is a failing world. Never count upon immutability in man: inconstancy you may reckon upon without fear of disappointment. The disciples of Jesus forsook him; be not amazed if your adherents wander away to other teachers: as they were not your all when with you, all is not gone from you with their departure. Serve God with all your might while the candle is burning, and then when it goes out for a season, you will have the less to regret. Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are. When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full, except in the Lord. Set small store by present rewards; be grateful for earnests by the way, but look for the recompensing joy hereafter. Continue, with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you. Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith?s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide. Between this and heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our covenant Head. In nothing let us be turned aside from the path which the divine call has urged us to pursue. Come fair or come foul, the pulpit is our watch-tower, and the ministry our warfare; be it ours, when we cannot see the face of our God, to trust under THE SHADOW OF HIS WINGS.

Not Revisionism–Just Dumb ;)

Having missed the broadcasts when they were presented in prime time last week, I’ve finally gotten around to working through the multi-episode series, “The World Wars,” on the History Channel.

I’m about halfway through.

images-1As an avid student of 20th century geopolitical history, I’m sort of torn as I watch the great story and stories unfold. First, I enjoy dramatic portrayals of great events, while recognizing that what is shown on the screen—whether big or small—will inevitably include a measure of license. Yes, I am one of those viewers who tend to talk back to the narrator, injecting my own commentary.

Karen simply loves it when I do that.

But here’s the thing—I find myself annoyed when something is presented as true history yet gets basic facts glaringly wrong. It’s one thing to give one side of something in dispute, but quite another to get basic chronology wrong. I’ve seen several examples of this, but I’ll give you two for now.

First, in the introductory episode called “Trial by Fire,” the writers have Vladimir Lenin taking control in Russia—and pulling his nation out of the First World War (a move that helped Germany) via the Treaty of Brest Litovsk—before America’s entrance into the war.

Yikes!

The facts are that America joined the conflict in April 1917. Lenin came to power later that year (October/November 1917, depending on the calendar you use). The treaty with Germany was then signed the next year—in March 1918.

The second glaring thing I saw had to do with Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain. In the episode called, “A Rising Threat,” it shows Chamberlain bringing Churchill into his government (as First Lord of the Admiralty) long before the Nazis invaded Poland.

Double yikes!!

2ChamberlainChurchillThe actual timeline is well known. First, Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Then, a few days later, Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany. It was after this that he summoned Churchill and gave him his job back (Winston had been First Lord during World War I).

Now, these may seem small, but they aren’t. They show a carelessness that is simply unnecessary. I wonder what the historians who appear on the series must think. I’m sure the insertion of their commentary was an editorial matter for the producer(s). But if I were Douglas Brinkley, or Paul Reid, or H. W. Brands—or any of their British counterparts, I’d be a little ticked.

I really can’t figure out why the producer(s) allowed such basic glaring mistakes to be presented.

Now, the series otherwise is actually pretty good. I think it captures the personalities of the good and evil giants—the men who made the history.

That’s valuable.

I am enjoying the series—mostly. But have to give it only two out of four stars for accuracy.

It’s almost like I half expect to see Pearl Harbor happen on a Saturday.

Old Yankee Stadium’s Best Night Ever

[This is one of the chapters in my book, "IN THE ARENA: Reflections on Culture, History, Politics, and Faith," available as an ebook and paperback at Amazon.com -- DRS]

THE OLD STADIUM in the Bronx—built more than 95 years ago—closed for business in 2008. The house that Ruth built had been home to the New York Yankees since before the days when their line-up was dubbed “Murderer’s Row.” Ghosts of legends like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle inhabited the place.

But the edifice located at East 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx was much more than a baseball park; it was America’s premier outdoor arena. If we were to pick a place that has been to us what the Coliseum was to Rome in days of glory, most would nominate Yankee Stadium, whether they liked the Yankees or not.

Looking beyond the Yankees, and their inseparable relationship with the stadium, we note that the venue provided the backdrop for many sports and cultural events that transcended baseball. From concerts, to religious services, to a national memorial service for victims of horrific terror just twelve days after 9/11, Yankee Stadium has been part of the scenery of American life.

When it comes to sports, the stadium has not just been a place for home runs, but also the field of battle for gladiators of the gridiron and soccer stars.

And, of course, there was the boxing.

Louis-schmeling-1938It’s been a generation since a championship fight was held at Yankee Stadium (Muhammad Ali vs. Ken Norton in September 1976), and they were becoming rare events for the venue even then. But during the sweet science’s heyday in the 1920s-1950s, the stadium ring planted over second base was the scene of many epic battles.

Sugar Ray Robinson, often referred to as the greatest “pound for pound” boxer of all time, had already won welterweight and middleweight titles. On a dreadfully hot night in June 1952, he tried to win the light-heavyweight crown against champion Joey Maxim. And he was clearly winning when he succumbed to heat exhaustion in the fourteenth round. He did, though, last longer than the referee, who had been carried out two rounds earlier.

Jack Dempsey, on the comeback trail seeking a rematch with Gene Tunney, fought at Yankee Stadium in 1927. Tunney fought there, too. In fact, there were 30 championship fights held on that field.

Calling something the best, or most significant, is always subjective and therefore risky. But I think I’m right when I suggest that Yankee Stadium’s greatest moment did not involve Babe Ruth or even Reggie Jackson. It wasn’t even a baseball game.

Seventy-five years ago, two boxers climbed into the famous stadium’s ring and squared off in the most historic boxing match, if not sporting event, of the decade – maybe the century. Max Schmeling and Joe Louis had fought in the same ring two years before, and the former world heavyweight champion from Germany had somehow, some way, found a flaw in Louis’ style.

The Brown Bomber from Detroit (the Yankees would soon be called “Bronx Bombers” as a take off on Louis’ nickname), as he was called, had been well on his way to pugilistic immortality, easily dispatching opponents—even former champions – hardly breaking a sweat. He seemed to be invincible. But the first fight with Max ended with Joe on the canvas in the twelfth round trying to remember who and where he was.

It was the 1930s and the world was becoming a very ominous and confusing place. Hitler’s Nazi-Germany was on the move, and the dictator was beginning to look invincible himself.

Schmeling, as a German, was blocked from fighting James J. Braddock for the title, even though he was clearly the number one contender. It fell to Louis to fight the Cinderella Man in 1937. Braddock was defending his title for the first time. Louis went down in round one of that fight – only to come back strong and knock Braddock out in the eighth.

Yet, though he was the champion in name, Louis knew that he wouldn’t be able to think of himself that way until he could settle his score with Mr. Schmeling. Most fight fans felt the same way.

In ancient times there was something called representative warfare, where one man from an army would do battle with an opponent sent by the enemy, and the larger conflict would be decided by this “one on one” ordeal.  The Philistine giant, Goliath, who taunted the ancient Israelites, proposed this kind of settlement to the issues of his day. Then he met a boy named David.

In 1938, as the world was becoming increasingly polarized in the face of impending war and as it was becoming clear to all people of freedom and good will that the Nazis were evil, the situation was ripe for a representative battle of sorts. And the rematch of Joe Louis and Max Schmeling fit the bill.

51sD86yfPZL._SY300_So, on June 22, 1938, veteran referee Arthur Donovan gave his ring instructions to two determined boxers as nearly 70,000 Yankee Stadium spectators looked on. More than 100 million radio listeners tuned in from around the world. This was the largest broadcast audience ever up to that time and included just about half of the American public. That morning, the New York Journal-American had a large cartoon in the paper, one that showed a stadium and two figures in a boxing ring.  Hovering above the ring was the image of an immense globe bearing the face of a man. He was looking down on the scene on behalf of all humanity.

Yes, it was that big of a deal that night.

Author David Margolick, in his definitive account of that evening entitled Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling and a World on the Brink, wrote: “The fight implicated both the future of race relations and the prestige of two powerful nations. Each fighter was bearing on his shoulders more than any athlete ever had. One didn’t need to be an anthropologist to know there had never been anything like it, or a soothsayer to know there would never be anything like it again. If Louis won, no rivalry on the horizon could possibly generate as much excitement. And with Europe and, inevitably, America, on the brink of war, the world would soon enough have more than prizefights on its mind.”

If you ever get a chance to see a film of the fight that night, try to find the audio of the radio broadcast by NBC’s Clem McCarthy as well. His gravelly voiced blow-by-blow description turns the ear into an eye. Joe Louis was ready this time – he knew what he was fighting for, and he didn’t want to waste any time.

Seven seconds into the bout, Joe Louis snapped the head of his opponent back with a left-jab, then another, and another. Later opponents would suggest that Louis’ jab wasn’t a Muhammad Ali-type flick but more like putting a light bulb against your face, then breaking it. Thirteen seconds later he had Schmeling on the ropes. McCarthy could hardly keep up: “And Louis hooks a left to Max’s head quickly! And shoots over a hard right to Max’s head! Louis, a left to Max’s jaw!  A right to his head! Louis with the old one-two! First the left and then the right! He’s landed more blows in this one round than he landed in any five rounds of the other fight!”

You get the picture.

In two minutes and four seconds it was over. But no one felt cheated. There were no catcalls that might usually accompany a lop-sided battle. Referee Arthur Donovan later said: “A referee lives a lifetime in two minutes like that.” 

So does a nation.

The rest is history. The defeat of the German in the ring didn’t slow the world’s long slide into war – nor could it have. Louis went on to fight again and again and again, defending his title successfully fifteen more times before December 7, 1941. Schmeling went home in disgrace. Nazis didn’t like it when someone from their master race got beaten up by a black man.

A few months after the fight, on November 9, 1938, as Nazis terrorized Jewish businesses and houses of worship during Kristallnacht, Max Schmeling sheltered two Jewish young people in his hotel suite in Berlin.

Joe Louis served his country in uniform during the war and emerged after to continue his career, though the clock was running out on his days of glory. He died in 1981. His former foe helped pay the cost of Joe’s funeral. Max Schmeling, who lived to be just seven months shy of a hundred years old, died in 2005.

Their brief, but explosive meeting in June 1938 at Yankee Stadium captured the attention of the world and the imagination of our nation. So, the great ballpark should be remembered as a place for more than baseball.

Yankee Stadium was a field of dreams, history, and glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He Had a Way With Words

[This blog is posted at VENTURE GALLERIES E7DC4EA9236857D984A33483589CB_h498_w598_m2-- DRS]

I’m a student of history. I’m also a Churchill buff. Maybe I’m just drawn to highly effective overweight people who achieved greatness and longevity.

Yes, Churchill was indomitable, often rude, terribly stubborn, and clearly enamored of his opinions – but he also had a great capacity for graciousness.

For example, though he had been Neville Chamberlain’s persistent, and at times vociferous, critic, Churchill was overwhelmingly kind to his predecessor, who was, though no one knew it at the time, not long for this earth when he stepped down as British Prime minister, making room for Winston on May 10, 1940.

One of the first things Churchill did after coming to power was to tell Chamberlain that he and his wife could stay in their home at 10 Downing Street for the immediate future.  Neville’s wife, Anne, not only enjoyed living in the Prime Minister’s residence, but she had actually done much to improve the dwelling.

Neville was moved by this generous gesture.

Though Chamberlain had taken chronic offense at Winston for his personal attacks in the House of Commons and the press, considering him something of an enemy (even once having Churchill’s phone tapped), it’s clear that this feeling was not reciprocated.  Winston remained personally loyal.  This would pay significant political dividends during fragile moments when the War Cabinet was debating whether or not to make peace overtures toward Hitler.  Chamberlain backed Churchill on that.

“Blood, toil, tears, and sweat,” are famous words to us today.  They evoke thoughts of courage, fearlessness, and an unwavering determination to succeed.  And other Churchillian phrases echo down to us through the corridors of time – words like: “finest hour,” “we shall never surrender,” “we shall fight on the beaches,” and so forth.  They are timeless and meaningful.

But I think one of Winston Churchill’s best orations from those days has been overlooked for too long. It was the eulogy he shared about Neville Chamberlain, who succumbed to complications due to stomach cancer on November 10, 1940, just six months after leaving office:

It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart–the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour. Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.

Frankly, Winston Churchill was not the one-dimensional warmonger some in his day thought him to be, and that some even today persist in insisting he was.  He was an inspiring leader at the right time and in the right place.

And the guy had a way with words.