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There is a photo hanging above the piano in my dining room, an old black and white that shows the first parsonage I lived in, a beautiful stone house in New York’s Hudson Valley. Over ten years ago when I first came across the original photo—the one displayed is a copy—while moving into the church office I was struck immediately with the huge American flag prominently shown strung before the house in the front yard. I’m patriotic and love my flag but nevertheless thought, “Well, that seems ostentatious or something and not becoming of a churchyard.” It was only after noticing the flag that I noticed all the people in the yard—out of the ordinary for a little country church situated between two farms. Then finally looking even more closely I noticed why all those folks were there. They are gathered around the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. I then understood why the flag.
Apparently somebody knew somebody and had a connection, and there was most likely an election coming up, and the President being relatively a local boy coming from across the river in Hyde Park, he was invited to the Ladies Guild Annual Church Fair. And he shows up!
Now ironically, speaking with many of the old-timers, he was not necessarily well liked. The mid-Hudson Valley back then was a pretty reliably Republican area. And even during my time serving there during the second Bush years, I learned that the vast majority of my congregants followed a similar voting habit.
All that said, over the years of my own political development I have learned to love FDR. Thus, I am quite happy to have a picture of the house that I once lived in with the President of the United States sitting in the front yard.
The season of Lent grants one the opportunity for self-examination, and to perhaps discern how the various idols we often worship immerse themselves into the systems of our lives, politics being one of those great idols. As said above, as Presidents go, I really like FDR. And yet I am reminded that he did what I believe to be absolutely terrible things as President, immoral and certainly unconstitutional.
Two days ago, February 19th, marked the anniversary of Executive Order 9066 where in 1942 President Roosevelt signed an order that gave the Secretary of War the ability to define certain areas of the United States as military zones. As such, vast portions of the US—about one third of our land—was declared a military zone and the order further enabled those persons of “Foreign Enemy Ancestry” living in those areas to be rounded up and relocated to “internment camps.” Approximately 11,000 Americans of German ancestry and 3,000 of Italian ancestry were interned. But over 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry where rounded up, taken away from their communities, their homes, farms, and businesses, relocated and interned in significantly substandard and deplorable living arrangements. These camps included old horse stables in interior western states surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. The vast majority of those persons interned during the duration of World War II were American born citizens of the United States.
FDR let this happen, assisted in it’s happening.
I still greatly admire Roosevelt but abhor his involvement in this dark mark upon our nation. I agree with much of his politics, but not all his actions.
Somehow, all this has been ruminating in my mind as I’ve reacted to Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement of his “retiring.” I remember vividly sitting at the kitchen table (in the photo above, it was situated just inside that widow you see in the far right side of the house) when the white smoke came in Rome and it was announced Cardinal Ratzinger would be the new Pope. Having read some of the Cardinal’s writings, I was disappointed and saddened by the news then. Admittedly, most of my disappointments haven’t changed much over these last few years. Dismayed at the hierarchy’s abysmal response to the clergy sex abuse scandals, discouraged by its attack upon women religious, and vehemently disagreeing with its response, perspective, and attitude towards LGBT Catholics, I find his stepping down to be a good thing.
I think the Holy Father has attempted to do what he believes to be faithful. And although I disagree with him, I understand him to be my brother in Christ. I have found in myself, even in my own attitude, a measured response sensitive to the many Roman Catholics whom we minister to and with, who even make up a part of our congregation’s church family. Here, I agree with the Pope’s action, even as I usually do not agree with his politics.
There’s no conclusion here.
Merely ruminations on politics, history, and faith during this Lenten season.
Just some thought along the journey.