Cromey Online

The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

FDR by Jean Edward Smith - my review

FDR by Jean Edward Smith, Random House, 2007, 858 pages.

It took a week to read it and worth every moment. It is a brilliant rehearsal of the events from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s birth in 1892 to his death in 1945. World War 1, the Depression and World War 11 were the great events of those years and FDR played a huge role in all of them. In WW 1 he was assistant secretary of the Navy and learned the ropes of the federal government, military readiness and dealing with labor. In the eight years he was at Navy there was not one strike against naval facilities as Roosevelt knew how to make friends of labor and their leaders and truly believed in the rights of labor. All that served him well in his four-term presidency 1933-1945.

Smith gives us vivid picture of Roosevelt the man, his family, children, beloved friends both men and women whom he had to depend on especially as he had been crippled with infantile paralysis when he was in his thirties. The sad relationship between Eleanor and Franklin is made plain with emotional touches making both seem real if haunted when it came to their personal relationship.

FDR was an Episcopalian, baptized in St. James Church, Hyde Park, NY and probably confirmed while a student at Groton. There is no indication how often he attended church but was a warden and on the vestry of St. James throughout his life time, attending vestry meetings by phone when he was president. It is reported by Smith that a well-worn prayer book was on his bed table while he was president. He inaugurated the custom of the president going to a local church before going to his inauguration. In 1933 He went to St. John’s Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C. Smith reports that Eleanor once asked Franklin if he believed all the stuff in the prayer book and the church? He replied that he did not think about it too much. She responded that it was probably just as well. He occasionally said he did something because he was a Christian.

The characters of politicians and government, which ran the states and country, are depicted with enough detail to give a fair and substantial view of how things worked and how things got done. His growing affection for Winston Churchill and cordial relations with Josef Stalin are presented with candor and even with humor.

This patrician gentleman got a feel for the common and working people of the country slowly but clearly. Eleanor took him as a young groom to to a poor tenement on the lower East side of Manhattan and he said he had no idea that people lived ”like that.” He got to know farmers in upstate New York, union leaders in New York and nationally. He rose above his high status upbringing to become a hero and economic savior to low status Americans in the 1930’s during the depression. He saw that people not only need money and food but also the dignity of work.

He also saw that it was the government’s responsibility to help those in need. Those needs for food, housing and health care could not be left up to the whims of capitalism's free market. The controlled capitalism, which we have today, came in large measure from the policies of FDR and his administration.

This book is well worth reading for anyone seriously interested on how we got to where we are today economically, a world power and a caring nation.

Addenendum:

FDR – African-Americans, Nisei and Jews

After I wrote the short review of the biography FDR, I thought that I had better add a bit of criticism of this mighty man’s presidency.

Roosevelt’s worst but not unpopular decision was to allow Japanese- Americans, citizens of the United States, to be removed from their homes and businesses on the west coat and be placed in internment camps. This deprivation of civil and human rights for Japanese-Americans was certainly due to the racism and fear of white Americans living in the West. There was popular support for this move, and Roosevelt suffered no political fallout from this action. Yellow people were not seen by FDR as real people nor important enough politically to warrant his compassion.

Roosevelt did little or nothing to improve the rights and liberties of African Americans during his tenure. No legislation was passed assuring voting rights for Blacks in the south. FDR was completely dependent on the Southern Democrats to keep him in power and pass his legislation.

The Roosevelts joined their class of high-status Americans in prejudices against Jews by innuendo and careless remarks based on supposed traits rather than as human beings. However, Roosevelt appointed Jews to high office: Henry Morganthau was Secretary of the Treasury, Sam Rosenman was a major speechwriter for many years. He did not do much to help Jews in Europe in concentration camps and even turned back a boatload of Jewish refugees who returned to Europe and the camps and probably their deaths.

FDR was the preeminent politician. He did what would work and avoided what wouldn’t. Issues that he did not feel strongly about he ignored until they went away.

They are the flaws of a very great man that tarnish but do not diminish his effect on the United States and the world.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sermons That Don't Work

To the Editor of Episcopal Life:

Thank you for the article on “Sermons that Work.” (Episcopal Life July, 2008) After reading the article and some of the sermons on the web site, I now know why the preaching in the Episcopal Church is so bad. The so-called “sermons that work” are humorless, tedious and lacking in passion. The writers of the sermons apparently do not know that our nation is at war, our economy in the doldrums and our environment on fire. There are few if any calls for action and no personal illustrations or human stories. They are logical, clear and cold.

The article quotes one of the sermon writers who brags that she is delighted to weave together themes from the three lessons: the Old Testament, the Epistle and the Gospel. When a preacher presents her congregation with multiple Biblical references, she confuses and wearies her listeners. I have had three years of seminary Biblical studies and get lost trying to figure out what the preacher is talking about. The poor layman with minimal Biblical knowledge simply tunes out.

I do hope “sermons that work” will offer preaching that is compelling, prophetic and relevant to our life and times.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Preaching on National Holidays

Notes on Preaching the Gospel on National Holidays

Great preaching opportunities are often ignored on national holidays. Wedded to the lectionary for the Sunday of a holiday weekend, many preachers fail to use the theme of the national day. Some sense that the secularization of some of these days makes it unworthy for use in the church. Certainly Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are seen as sentimental and slushy. But what an opportunity is given to preach on motherhood on Mother’s Day. The Virgin Mother, the Mother of God, the female gods of antiquity, the struggle for women’s rights and Mother Earth and Motherland are just a few themes that would deepen the concept of motherhood beyond the banalities of the Hallmark Card Mother’s Day sentimentality.

So also Father’s Day provides splendid ideas for preachers. The fatherhood of God, the creator God, rising resentment among women that they are left out of the fatherhood concept. Our Father, Dear Lord and Father, what it feels like to be a father, the responsibilities of fatherhood, absentee fathers, deadbeat fathers, divorced father figures, male priests as father.

The preacher needs to include stories of his own experience with "father," or mother," the lessons he or she has learned about the true nature of love and the Gospel's demand.

Independence Day has propers for that day which could easily be used on the Sunday nearest that Fourth of July. Lots of preaching ideas here. Freedom in Christ, church and state, independence as individuals and as a nation, national responsibility as reflected in the Old Testament prophets. Nationhood vs. Imperialism.

Valentine's Day, a day for lovers and for considering the nature of true love and the special demands of agape love. Certainly a way of speaking of the deeper meanings of love than the treakly doileyd redness of the holiday cards.

Presidents’ Week in February. Themes of leadership, character, integrity. A look at the idea of the divine right of kings versus elected leadership. Royals and presidents have the charge to look after the poor and needy. The privilege and right to vote. President brings war and/or peace.

Memorial Day brings the issue of death, sacrifice and the meaning of life as the country remembers the war dead as well as the civilians who died and more who mourn as the aftermath of war. The Gettysburg Address could be a reading for the Sunday of or nearest Memorial Day.

Labor Day presents the church and country with the need for people to act in unity for decent wages, safety in the work place, protection of children, health care and pensions. The Labor Union Movement is often forgotten or derided in our land. Their contribution to the welfare of all working people can never be overestimated.

Election Day. This is the day when God’s people participate in their own governance in this country. We literally can stand up and be counted and take a stand for what we think is right and which persons and issues reflect our basic values. What is God calling us to be and do?

Veterans’ Day can be celebrated regarding the military as peacekeepers rather than warriors. A strong military brings the possibility of peace. The church needs to remind the military of the importance of their roles as peacekeepers.

The Book of Common Prayer, the lectionary and the Hymnal are full of prayers, lessons and music that reflect our national interests.

Visitors to an Episcopal Church may view us as divorced from reality if the subject on each person's mind is not mentioned in the sermon.

Preachers can see in these national holidays the issues and values that are important to our people and that are presented to the people by our governments. In a time when it is difficult to catch people’s attention these national concerns are powerful place where we can reflect on the relationship of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the world in which we live.
Preachers can move these holidays from a simple-minded patriotism to a deep love of our country and compassion for all as reflected in the life of Jesus.