The American Paradigm

“Why are you Americans poking your nose into the Middle East’s business?” 

I was sitting with fellow Christians over tea at the Irish Bible Institute in downtown Dublin, Ireland.  The Americans had just invaded Iraq after our 9-11 attacks and Georg, a Romanian, and Cesar, a Spaniard, cornered me.  They seemed upset that those bossy Americans were at it again; pushing other countries around with our might and resources simply because we were bullies.

Now, if these fellows were non-Christians I might have just shaken my head and walked away.  But they both grew up in non-Christian cultures yet were now attending an evangelical Bible college to learn more about God and Jesus.  I saw a teachable moment!

“Have you ever seen the movie Amistad?” I asked.  Neither had.

“How about Schindler’s List?”  Neither had.

“How about Saving Private Ryan?” Both had.  I probed deeper, “Ah, so what did you think of the movie?”

Both men thought the plot of the movie was idiotic.  Georg scoffed, “How stupid for all those men to die, just to save one.  It doesn’t make sense.”  I followed up, “So, what is the value of a human life in Romania, Georg?”  He replied, “Why, it’s what that person can give back to Mother Romania.”  I expected that answer.  Then Cesar agreed, “Yes, a person’s value is what they contribute to their town, province and country.”

“Not in America,” I shot back.  They were dumbfounded.  “Do you think millions of Americans died during the American Civil War to free the black slaves because of what they could give back to the economy?  No!  In fact, freeing the slaves wreck the Southern economy.”

“Then why do it?” Cesar asked, genuinely incapable of understanding any other motive. “It was stupid to do that.”

“Does your country have a battle hymn?” They both responded that there is no such thing as a ‘Battle Hymn.’  It’s an absurd idea.  I replied, “America has The Battle Hymn of The Republic.  It was written during the American Civil War and one verse contains the line, ‘Jesus died to make men holy, let us die to set men free.’  Why?  Because God loves and cherishes all men, women and children.  If Jesus died to bring all men to God, even those with no status, should we value any human life any less?”

I would love to say that 30 years of living in a godless culture (Georg grew up Communist!) was undone that day by my dissertation, but I’m afraid it wasn’t.  Still, they left the Irish Bible Institute with a deeper understanding of God’s love for all humans.  America advanced into Iraq not bent on revenge, but to free those dear people from an oppressive dictator.  Why?  Because ‘Jesus died to make men holy, let us die to set men free!’

By the way, did you notice that all three movies I referenced were produced by Steven Spielberg?  His movies are gritty and mean, graphically showing how terrible man can be to his fellow man.  Then, in the midst of the indifference, a hero emerges who champions the rights of the downtrodden for no other reason than “All men are created equal.”  Spielberg has a way of putting all that on film, and I recommend each one.

That’s the American Paradigm: Jesus died to make men holy, let us die to set men free.  And it begins with the Constitution which boldly states, “All men are created equal.”

He Gave His Word

We went to visit Grandma and Grandpa at their house in 1968.  I was a happy observant 7-year old.  On this visit, Grandma was upset and agitated about something and would not stop pestering Grandpa about whatever popped into her mind.  It made the entire visit awkward; like walking on eggshells.  Grandpa was the picture of patience and grace and endured it all with poise.

We were driving home from the visit in our Ford Country Squire station wagon after dark.  The kind with the fake wood grain down the side and a luggage rack on top.  I was lying in the back (unbuckled) pondering what I had witnessed that day at my grandparents’ house.  I felt I had to search for a solution: some way to bring relief to poor Grandpa from all that friction.  I asked calmly out of the blue, “Dad, if Grandma wears Grandpa out with all her arguing, why doesn’t he just leave?”  To a seven year old, this seems like an innocent question.  I wasn’t judging, I just wanted Grandpa to be happy.

Dad thought hard (can you imagine having to answer that?) and calmly replied, “Well, Grandpa comes from a generation that doesn’t leave when things get tough.  You see, he made a commitment when he married Grandma ‘for better or for worse’ and he’s going to honor that. He gave his word, and to him there’s no other option but to keep it.”

That answer soaked deep into my spirit and took root there all that long drive home.  It has since burrowed it’s way into my core.  I admire my Dad for hitting the nail on the head with his answer.  Bravo, Dad!  But I especially admire my Grandpa for giving his word (at a wedding in 1929) and keeping it until the day he passed away…regardless of circumstances.  Years later, his final words to Grandma were, “I love you.”  How could you not look up to someone like that?

In case you don’t recognize it, we’re talking about “character.”  Grandpa was brimming with it.  He’s one of my heroes.

Today, 50 years later, I still meet people who seem surprised when I commit to something and stick with it.  For example, at work I may commit to helping with a project and then circumstances change.  I still help out on the project for the simple reason that I gave my word.  People say, “Why didn’t you get out of helping on that project? You had every right to.”  I just smile and say, “Because I said I would help.  I gave my word.”

Thanks, Grandpa, for the tremendous example you showed us all.  And for loving Grandma even when she was not very lovable.  Your legacy lives on.  I give my word on that!