Here it is, the new decade! The sky this morning arrived as the color of dirty teeth, but it just now opened up to a dazzling blue which is even more vivid as it frames our world of white. We had six inches of snow yesterday which is a lot for us. Globs of it still hug the needles of the Ponderosa Pine trees we planted years ago. One is now large enough that I can see its top outside the second story window of my office. It’s a grand reminder of time passing.
Jerry’s in his football mode and I’ll join him shortly for the Ducks in the Rose Bowl feeling grateful we’re not playing against Wisconsin because my loyalties would be really challenged . This way, it’s the Ducks all the way. During the half time, I’ll pick up my new Kindle -- yes, I’ve gone electronic – and read A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan. Now here’s the thing: Sometimes when I read that book I feel like it isn’t about events that happened in 1896 but about current affairs of 2009-2010 and I find that reassuring in a way.
Back in 1896 people were coming out of a terrible depression and recession with lots of bank closures and people losing their homes to foreclosure because many were farmers and crop prices had fallen so people weren’t able to pay their mortgages. Complaints about immigrants taking jobs in the mines and cities raged. In the transportation field, one of the biggest corporations in the country, The Union Pacific Railroad, had filed for bankruptcy. Other corporations were deemed by many as too big, monopolies and yet the courts didn’t rule that they violated antitrust statutes. People were angry at Wall Street and thought they were too closely tied to foreign interests (back then it was London rather than Peking that worried people). Emotions ran high. There’d been a Pullman workers strike and people complained that the Negro race made unworthy advances at the expense of white men.
William Jennings Bryan had become the spokesperson for a new party primarily from the West and Midwest that championed the working class but also supported racial segregation feeding on the worries of people and our human penchant to seek someone to blame. But the big issue of the day that caused people to shout and cry and leave town meetings devastated and fearful that the nation as they knew it was coming to an end had to do with the silver versus the gold standard for the dollar. And because Bryan lived in Nebraska (a state still in the news today with Warren Buffet and Ben Nelson and of course the Huskers who won their bowl game) the west was being taken more seriously than in the past.
Though women didn’t have the vote, women still had opinions and the characters in the book I’m working on (for release in 2011) about a mother and daughter who walked across America to earn money to save their farm, held opposing views. The mother, Helga, supported William Jennings Bryan in the election while her daughter, Clara, supported William McKinley. They must have discussed these views as they walked from Spokane to New York over seven months in 1896. The two women even got the autographs of Mrs. Mary Bryan (Mr. Bryan was on a campaign tour) and later in Ohio, McKinley’s signature when they visited the candidates respective towns.
Ok, that’s a terribly shortened history lesson of 1896. I confess, I’m not sure I understand the gold or silver standard or even what we have now which I guess is just a certificate saying the money we hold is worth something. The gold standard had been replaced by silver almost sixty years before the election of 1896, but that didn’t stop those who felt it had been a grave mistake from hoping to repeal gold and return to silver and from hoping that if they did that, all would soon be well in the world.
What I was struck with was how all these years later certain issues continue to dominate national discourse. Financial concerns, foreign involvement in our economy, race relations, foreclosures, unemployment, and even Nebraska!
I find a certain comfort in knowing that some of these issues have affected the psyche of a people before. Yes, it could mean that we don’t learn from our mistakes. Was it Churchill who said that if we don’t remember history we’re destined to repeat it? Or maybe it was that if we don’t “learn from history” we’re destined to repeat it. Perhaps we didn’t learn anything.
On the other hand, the comfort comes from knowing that through all of this, God is faithful and unchanging. Bryan was a praying man who believed he acted in faith as he attempted to lead the nation on a different path than McKinley who was also known as a faithful Christian though much more private in his expression. Here were two public figures, both faithful, who took differing paths. In hind sight, who’s to say which path was correct? Historians still discuss it. It’s part of the messiness of democracy that we chose the route we think is best and then learn how to adapt to the consequences.
But I like knowing that people of faith can disagree, can see the world in different ways while still believing that each cares deeply and profoundly about their nation and want only the best for it and its people.
It’s gratifying too that while the arguments raged on in 1896, life went on. People helped their neighbors, planted their fields and gardens, married, had children, nursed ill ones, grieved at the loss of loved ones dying. Some lost their jobs and homes yet found new routes to support their families and claimed later that what they thought had been their worst time became the beginning of their best time.
The resiliency of the human spirit walks through those history pages and I’m reminded that we are formed of sturdy stock, people who can work for better, hope for it and yet still be tethered to the daily walk of life, doing what we have control over, catching ourselves up when we hear the inner voices saying “What’s this world coming to?” or “What’s the use? Nothing changes. Life is nothing but a series of diminishing returns.” We can disagree!
The new year speaks of fresh starts for me and the constant reminder of God’s faithfulness through recent history and ancient of days. I hope it will speak such words to you as well. While the year will not be without its trials – I fully expect it to be so – it will also have its glory moments. I can be sure of that at least once each morning by remembering in gratitude all that God has given and that whatever path I chose to take, I will not be on that walk alone. It’s a New Year’s prayer I send to you as well.
Oh! A glob of snow just melted from the trees and plopped down! It’s warming up! And kickoff is under way. Have a grand month ahead! You do have control over that.