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Monday, September 22, 2014

Pastorgraphs: “What The Roosevelts Can Teach Us”

E-Vangel Newsletter

September 22, 2014

Christ United Methodist Ministry Center

“Christ in the Heart of San Diego”
3295 Meade Avenue - San Diego, CA 92116 - (619) 284-9205
Pastorgraphs: “What The Roosevelts Can Teach Us”

Ken Burns’ documentary on the Roosevelts is his best yet. I watched most of the 14 hours spread over seven episodes. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you make time to see this series on reruns or DVD. 
Burns has that amazing ability to make history come alive. His documentaries always capture the human aspects of great events from personal correspondence, journals and private conversations; things not readily available in textbooks.

It embarrassed me how much I did not know about this family. More importantly, I learned how different and better our country is today because of the trials, ideals and courage of Theodore (TR), Franklin (FDR) and Eleanor Roosevelt.

What impressed me most was to see how the Roosevelts (one Republican, two Democrats) went through much of what is still making headlines today. In 1939, FDR promised American mothers their sons would not be sent to fight Hitler (boots on the ground) and that if we armed England, they would fight and win the war in Europe for us (arm the Iraqi/Syrian rebels). Sound familiar?

The personal attacks they endured, hatred from the political bosses and robber barons, the battles with Congress and the Supreme Court, all could be copied from today’s headlines. History does seem to repeat itself.

We tend to immortalize and sanitize our national heroes, and forget the pain, sorrow and abuse they had to endure. The Roosevelts persevered in spite of personal handicaps, family tragedies and incessant, vicious criticism. TR almost died as a child from asthma. FDR refused to give in to polio and congestive heart failure during the darkest days in modern American history. Eleanor overcame childhood rejection and her husband’s indiscretions. If anything, their trials and tribulations made them stronger and more determined to make our country better than it was. They succeeded.

I am not alone in seeing the similarities and contrasts with Washington of today. Bob Schieffer of CBS’ Face the Nation put it this way:

“As I watched the documentary on PBS this week about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and their cousin Teddy, I couldn't help but think about what set them apart from today's politicians. Yes, they were very smart but there are still a lot of smart people in Washington. Yes, they saw wrongs that needed to be corrected. But we still have those with good hearts, and yes they were good politicians but we still have a few good politicians around here.
What set them apart to my mind was their courage. When they saw wrong, they not only tried to make it right, but they did so with no guarantee of success. What a glaring contrast to the Washington of today which spends most of its time doing nothing and the rest of its time devising schemes to avoid responsibility for anything. The latest example: when congress approved arming the Syrian rebels, they stuck the legislation in a bill that also provided money to keep the government from shutting down. That way, if arming the rebels turns out to be a debacle, members can say, "I was never for arming the rebels, I just voted to prevent a government shutdown."
The Roosevelt documentary was 14 hours long spread over seven nights. A story about the courage of today's Washington would take about 30 minutes-at most.”

Teddy Roosevelt almost single-handedly led the US into becoming a world power. FDR faced down the two greatest threats to democracy in our history: the Great Depression and the Third Reich. He may have, as the documentary stated, saved capitalism itself. Eleanor, the first “First Lady” to have a career outside the White House, was a champion of civil rights and social justice long before they became conventional themes. When asked how she was able to persevere through tragedies and venomous criticism, Eleanor said “When you have ideals, they will guide you through the good times and bad.”

Today, like TR’s times, the wealthy few have a disproportional influence on politics and justice (or lack thereof). We have our own form of robber barons. Our Congress is so insulated by gerrymandering and lobbyists they are little concerned with what we think, or that their approval ratings are lower than cockroaches. Most know they will be reelected, and that is all that matters to them.

As the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, will we have a Teddy Roosevelt or FDR to shine the spotlight on the excesses of power and wealth?
There will be a day of justice (judgment) when the scales of fairness will be adjusted. The things done in secret will be exposed in the light of day. Every idle word will have to be accounted for. The servants will become masters. The faith-full poor will become rich in ways most of this world’s wealthy cannot begin to imagine, for they already have their reward. Those who gained the whole world will find that they lost their own souls for all of eternity.

The Roosevelts were far from perfect people. So am I. And I am not the final judge. But based upon their unceasing courage to help the common man and woman, to right the wrongs of their times, I suspect they will hear a “well done!”. A careful look at their struggles, failings and triumphs has much to teach us.

In Christ’s Service,
Bill Jenkins

From The Quote Garden:
“The Roosevelt documentary was 14 hours long spread over seven nights. 
A story about the courage of today's Washington would take about 30 minutes-at most.”
~ Bob Schieffer, Face The Nation (CBS)
Photo Credit: PBS, Ken Burns

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