Living Under Tension

Harry Emerson Fosdick was one of the greatest preachers of the 20th Century.  He was born in Buffalo, New York in 1878.  He died in 1969.  For many years he served the renowned Riverside Church in New York City–made that by his ministry as he was the first pastor of the then new church financed by J.D. Rockefeller.   Fosdick tended to be on the liberal side theologically but, unlike the Left of today, he was a bright and thoughtful man.

He published a volume of 25 of his sermons in 1941 with the title “Living Under Tension.”  It was the eve of our entering WWII and war was already raging in Europe.  Those were discouraging days (as are ours) but Fosdick called for optimism in the midst of trial.  I borrow his title and some of his thoughts for this post.

I personally own Edward Creasy’s classic volume Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, From Marathon to Waterloo. Published in 1851 he includes the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and the victory of the Americans over Burgoyne at Saratoga in 1877 during the Revolutionary War.  If it were written today he would probably include the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg in our Civil War and the 1942 Battle of Midway when the Japanese Navy suffered their first defeat of WWII.

Fosdick notes that there are decisive babies born at the time of major conflict and that those babies are more important than transient battles.  For example, in 1814 Russian and Austrian troops invaded Italy to avenge their losses to Napoleon.  At the battle for Piacenza they murdered women and children.   One woman hid in the belfry of a church with a baby nursing at her breast.  That baby grew up to be Verdi, the great composer.  I own a collection of his works and still listen to Rigoletto, Aida, La Traviata. Il Travatore.  But even specialists no longer remember the battle for Piacenza.  But we know Verdi.

In 1809 Napoleon was dominating Europe and the news.  But some important things were happening that were not in the news.  That year Abraham Lincoln, William Gladstone, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Cyrus McCormick, the inventor of the harvester were born.  At the least we can say the world was not as hopeless as it looked and a case can be made that those babies were far more decisive than Napoleon’s battles.

Barack Obama is President of the United States.  Hillary Clinton wants the job.  I wonder what babies are being born this year who will make a difference whereas these two only make mischief.

Harry Kemp wrote a poem called “The Conquerors” that includes these lines:

“I saw the conquerors riding by with cruel lips and faces wan;  Musing on kingdoms sacked and burned, There rode the Mongol Genghis Khan;

And Alexander, like a god,  Who wrought to weld the world in one;  And Caesar with his laurel and wreath;  And like a thing from Hell the Hun;

And leading like a star, the van,  Heedless of upstretched arm and groan,  Inscrutable Napoleon went,  Dreaming of empire, and alone. . .

Then all they perished from the earth,  As fleeting shadows from a glass,  And, conquering down the centuries,  Came Christ the Swordless on an ass.”

Polycarp was an early leader of the Christian Church.  He personally knew some of the disciples who knew Jesus.  He was born in 69 A.D. and was martyred for his faith in Smyrna by the Roman proconsul, Lucius Statius Quadratus in 155.  The Christians in Smyrna wrote thus of his death:  “Statius Quadratus being proconsul, but Jesus Christ being King forever.”

I hope we will all vote and vote smart in these days of “Living Under Tension.”  But let us also take the longer view. Doubtless God is doing things of which we are unaware and that do not make the news.  He is still in charge and will one day wrap up history and the Omnipotent will reign forever!  Praise the Lord!



Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.