Today, the Rev. Dr. Neil Routh will join you at Fries at 5:00. My little contribution I offer here, alone. It was inspired by my finding the picture which heads this article. The Pastor
Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been going through papers and “memorabilia” left me by my mom when she died in September of 2018, just a few hours shy of her 95th birthday. One of the prizes she left is a tattered scrapbook that had to have been put together by my father’s mother, for some things in it predate dad’s association with my mom by half a decade or more. Though she died when I was a preschool child, I remember Grandmother Green, who is Dairl’s grandmother, too. One of the articles is from the “Winston-Salem Sentinel” and is dated December 31, 1940. It features a picture of my dad and two other young men who had recently joined the Army. Each was allowed a quote. My dad, Norwood Green, said, “Uncle Sam will give me a future, I believe.” It was a prescient statement. Dad was one of the fortunate young men who went off to war, served well, and returned home alive. A member of the Army Medical Corps, Br. Norwood went into Utah Beach on D plus 1, then participated in a number of campaigns. He was with Patton’s 3rd Army when it relieved General McAuliffe’s troops in Bastogne where they were fighting the Battle of the Bulge, and from there, he went with the 3rd Army into Germany. He assisted in the liberation of at least one of the Nazi death camps. Following the Allied Victory and German surrender on May 8th, 1945, Dad stayed in Germany to help run a civilian hospital. His second in command was a German Colonel. He then returned home and attended Mars Hill College, Moravian College, and Moravian Theological Seminary. He took full advantage of The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the G.I. Bill. Without it, Dad might never have gone to college or seminary.
The G.I. Bill, in multiple incarnations, made America a smarter, more prosperous nation. Heck, thanks to dad, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and Shut Hartman Construction Company, I was able to pay my way through college. I then went into service and came out to earn three graduate degrees, all paid for by Uncle Sam. Dad was right, Uncle Sam did give him a future, and, though he could not have foreseen it at the time, a future for further generations of his family, too.
A nation never does wrong to invest in its future. The present political deadlock is grievous to me because in recent decades both parties have spent more time, energy, and money seeking power than in investing in the future of this country. I may be letting my prejudices show, but as an independent, and as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, I am quite sure that any move to serve all people, unite all people, and work together for the common good is always preferable to a partisan pursuit of still more party power, or still more money.
I am tired of the Culture Wars. It is good and right for every American to hold strong convictions, but the idea that one party or the other will finally “win,” and trounce the other into oblivion is one of the worst notions I have ever heard, and I am hearing it everywhere.
It was Jimmy Carter (not a great President, but a great former President) who loved the Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr, and sometimes quoted them while in office. I like Jimmy Carter because he bought his best bird dog, the late but still much-honored Sport, from a friend of mine, Eben Alspaugh. I like the Niebuhrs because they belonged to a group of theologians associated with so-called “dialectical theology,” which I find throughout the Bible. The phrase “dialectic” or “dialectical” comes from Hegel and was co-opted by Bonhoeffer, Barth, Brunner, Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr, and other theologians whose names you need not know or remember. However, it is instructive to know a little about “dialectic,” for it works in every facet of life. It basically says that progress does not come in a straight line, ever-advancing and ever steady, but in “fits and starts.” First, there is a thesis, an idea or a method about how to accomplish something or other. Then there is an antithesis, which comes at the same problem from the opposite side. Then, invariably, there is a synthesis, which combines the best elements of the thesis and anthesis and moves things along a little, enabling survival and progress for all.
The American Experiment has worked as well as it has, because though much of our history, we have had multiple political “parties” at work in our governments, national, state, and local. Usually, we have had two parties, and a bunch of Independents, or an extra party or two trying to get started. We have been more or less settled-in with two major parties since not long after the Civil War. When one or the other of these two major parties falls flat, the other seems to win, and they run things handily until they go completely hard-core and hidebound with some issue. Then, thank-God, good people in both parties help to bring back the endangered party. In nations where this does not happen, the nation becomes authoritarian, and ultimately “fascist,” or, conversely, “socialists” or “communists.” The difference between fascism and communism is that fascism develops its privileged leader class before its “revolution,” and communism usually develops its privileged leader class after its “revolution.”
As one who loves democracy, I think fascism and socialism are both dead ends. Our nation needs at least two parties, and a bunch of independents like me to watch and (at times) cheer-on or join forces, with one or the other. In other words, neither party is always right. We Americans need our Lincolns, and Roosevelts, both of them, and Kennedys, and Johnsons, and Reagans. (For safety’s sake, I will leave off my list where it stood when I left Fries in 1988. Some of you may recall the jar of Jellybeans that I always kept on my desk, right up to my departure. It was given me by the late Ruby Petree, thought I did refill it multiple times.) Personally, I am convinced that we need fiscal conservatives who seek to balance the budget and those visionaries and risk-takers who know that only by investing in our people (and in our infrastructure), we can build a better America. We need social conservatives, who keep us morally upright, and social progressives, who point out the wrongs in our society, and remind us that every citizen is equal before the law and before the bar of American justice.
Some would say, “Worth, there is a higher court!” Amen, to that. I agree one hundred percent. And someday God will judge us for all of our actions, private and public. On that day, I fear that T.S. Elliot will be absolutely right: “The (highest) temptation is the greatest treason / To do the right thing for the wrong reason.” How many politicians will some bow the knee before the terrible charge of doing the right thing for the wrong reason? And how many voters?
I hate to think that America will ever devolve into anarchy, ruled by violence. No one in his right mind, in either party or no party, wants that. I hate to think that America will devolve into socialism or communism. We should learn from the lesson of the church in Jerusalem. All the members of the church sold everything and held everything in common, but their communism was a failure. In a few short years, Paul was taking up a collection for “the relief of the saints in Jerusalem.” Finally, I hate to think that America will devolve into an oligarchy, where the vast majority of her citizens are ruled over by the few, the hyper-rich. The rich who rule in the future will not be like the rich most of us have known. They will be so rich we cannot imagine it. They will be like J. Paul Getty, who possessed billions and balked at paying a few million in ransom for a grandson even when the boy’s mother pleaded for it. When reminded by a reporter that he was the richest man in the world, and asked, “How much is enough?”, Getty answered, “More.” These super-rich will be closely tied to the corporations that now rule the world as surely as the sovereign nations once did. Indeed, today, one of the reasons we need government is to reign-in and regulate the corporations. Why? Because the corporation, always capable of great good, is also capable of great evil. The benevolent corporations we have known in the past have changed a great deal over the last decades. They are now so powerful that the continued relevance of the nation-states is threatened.
One hundred years ago, people said, “the sun never sets on the British Empire.” This statement referred to Britain’s territorial holdings at the time, for these holdings literally circled the globe. The British Empire of that time now pales in significance before modern corporate giants which now seem to control so much of everyday life. Heck, I know that at least some of them have their hooks in Worth Green and his privacy. Yet, I don’t know how I could function without my Mac, and my Google, and my Kindle (Amazon!).
How can something so good be so dangerous if left unattended?
Simple, most of today’s giant corporations are not national, but international. We should not be surprised that many large international corporations are no longer as patriotic or as careful of their workers as they were when they were exclusively U.S. corporations. We should not be surprised that some of them think nothing of relocating their headquarters or their manufacturing to another country just to save taxes and wages, without regard to what this means to Americans and American workers. At times, these international corporations seem to be ruled by the wealthy managers at the top, and they do some good things, like make good products, “go carbon-free,” and sponsor “free medicines” for people in need. Hooray! But at other times, the same corporations seem to be ruled by Mammon alone, for they do only what “profit” demands. Perhaps you, readers, will remember what Jesus once said about Mammon, money? Perhaps you will remember too, that money is just as big a temptation for the individual as for the corporation. Most of us vote what is good for us as individuals. As Socrates reportedly once said or was it, Aristotle? “People don’t care about whether government is good or bad government, they only care that it is profitable for them.”
Given the present state of our world, how will we little folk ever keep our heads above water? How will the great nation-state democracies like the United States survive? How can our planet and its people endure the onslaught of unbridled opportunism (or dishonestly veiled paternalism) with no regard for anything but profit today, tomorrow be damned? How can we little folk dare to hope for a better future for our children and grandchildren?
Well, we are back to dialectic. It is only through a strong and active voter base which is always be split between people who want to conserve our past and people who want to ensure our future relevance, all of whom willing to compromise because all of them know that our democracy and its people can only survive if everyone works for the higher loyalty of the common good. It all boils down to the dialectic, and the fair play between the adherents of the two positions, conservative, and progressive. Think about that.
I will end this essay by answering a question that still lingers with some of you, the idea that the Bible contains the roots of dialectic. I believe that those who know how to look for dialectic can find it in many places throughout the Bible, but in one place it stands out in bold relief. In the case of Paul and Barnabas and John Mark, as recorded in the book of Acts. Paul and Barnabas were fast friends and traveling companions engaged in the work of evangelizing the Gentiles. They went on their first missionary journey and took along John Mark. However, somewhere along the way, John Mark got discouraged and went home. Paul and Barnabas completed the first journey without John Mark, though they did have other companions. Then, after a time of respite, Paul and Barnabas were gearing up for a second missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark and wanted to give him another chance. Paul did not. He said, in effect, “If John Mark goes with you, I will not.” Well, according to Acts, Barnabas took John Mark and Paul took Silas and they went their separate ways, and now we sing about the gospel saying, “It was good for Paul and Silas, it was good for Paul and Silas, it was good for Paul and Silas, it’s good enough for me!”
Now, look at the larger picture, at the dialectic. Who was right about John Mark, Barnabas, or Paul? Which of these evangelists was in the Will of God about that young disciple? Dialectic declares that both were right and walking in the light God had given them. God will Paul and Barnabas on the opposite path because God knew that John Mark needed both the opportunity of the second chance afforded him by Barnabas and the impetus of the strong rebuke handed him by Paul. And what is my evidence that John Mark needed both? The results! According to tradition, John Mark in question became the companion and interpreter of Peter, in Rome, and stood by Peter when things got really serious in that city. The same tradition declares that it was John Mark who wrote, “the Gospel According to St. Mark,” which tradition declares to be an accurate representation of the preaching and teaching of St. Peter in Rome. It is obvious to me, that God had a plan, a dialectical one, using the conflict between Paul and Barnabas to forge the John Mark God needed in the flames of a history that was more than personal. Think about that.
So, I started this essay with my Dad, so I will end with him. In ending, I just want to speak as if he were listening, and say:
“Dad, I miss you! I am pleased to think that you are now enjoying the benefits of the heavenly kingdom, one of which is a reunion with your family and friends, and with all who have gone before you into the Heavenly Kingdom. I am sure you have enjoyed a joyous reunion with those soldiers you once served and comforted as they lay healing or dying from their wounds, received in Normandy, and Bastogne, and in other places whose names are not so familiar to us.
“I know we had our differences, but, in the end, I am so pleased that I am your son. My life does not measure up to yours. My length of days, my experience, my patriotism, my dedication to the Gospel, and my spiritual understanding all fall far short of yours. In my eyes, you and your generation really were the Greatest. So, put in a good word for me, want you? And while you are at it, put in a good word for the nation and world that you and your generation once served so well. Our country and all of its citizens are still in your debt.”