Vail Daily column: Fight the good fight when it comes to the American dream
We gain sharper focus of the American Dream and appreciate the depth of its meaning on Memorial Day. Pondering sacrifices of slain veterans who preserved our nation’s freedom enriches understanding of the American Dream.
Gen. George Patton led the Fighting Red Devils, the Fifth Division in which my father fought during World War II. Dad got me up early on Decoration Day, as Memorial Day was then called, during my boyhood in the 1950s.
Before visiting family cemetery plots where we decorated graves with flags and patriotic bunting, Dad took me downtown to Veterans Memorial Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Here, we rehearsed what the American dream meant and what sacrifices it takes to preserve liberty.
A grandson of Dutch immigrants, I had respect for the American dream drilled into me. It embraced a faith that, starting low on a ladder of success, you could move upward from nobody to somebody. Such advance doesn’t magically happen. To progress takes devotion to our nation’s ideals, hard work and confidence in abilities to invent, produce and prosper.
Grand Rapids congressman Gerald R. Ford spoke at Veterans Park on Decoration Day in the 1950s. My relatives voted for “Jerry” because he helped settle in western Michigan immigrants from the Netherlands after World War II. Sandy-haired, his Holland-looking wide face flashed a winning smile. My relatives adopted Ford as Dutch, even though by blood he wasn’t.
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He told patriots at Veterans Park to soldier on and fight the good fight. This meant embracing the American dream by being grateful for personal liberty, working hard and raising your economic status. Choose an occupation, Ford advised. Use money earned to invest in the fruits of industry. Take some savings to buy property.
In his iconic 1961 inaugural address, former President John F. Kennedy spoke of the American dream’s scope and depth. It grants more than individual freedoms. We must explore a new frontier. Our efforts to make money have purpose beyond consumerism. Kennedy challenged Americans to use profits from their hard work to help the most vulnerable in our society and around the globe. Fight poverty by joining the Peace Corp.
Receiving the 2017 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award on May 7, former President Barack Obama testified to how JFK’s vision of the American dream converted him. “To those of us of a certain age, the Kennedys symbolized a set of values and attitudes about civic life that made it such an attractive calling,” Obama declared. “The idea that politics in fact could be a noble and worthwhile pursuit. The notion that our problems, while significant, are never insurmountable.
“The belief that America’s promise might embrace those who had been knocked out or left behind and that opportunity and dignity would no longer be restricted to the few but extended to the many. The responsibility that each of us has to play a part in our nation’s destiny, and by being Americans, play a part in the destiny of the world.”
Ben Franklin partially captured the American dream when he justified economic success by quoting from the book of Proverbs, “See a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings.” (Proverbs 22:29). A person who works hard has a regal standing, Franklin believed.
Isn’t this the Gospel Dream Jesus exemplified? Instead of issuing a self-help manual, he told stories about helping the Samaritan outcast, the widow and orphan, the oppressed servant, the overlooked leper or the paralytic man who needed friends to carry him before Jesus.
Reject the popular individualistic interpretation of the American dream, which makes achievers sole recipients of its benefits.
Christian marching orders that Methodists practice show how to implement the American dream and honor fallen military heroes: “Where it (our nation) is in pride, subdue it; where it is in need, supply it; where it is in error, rectify it; where it is in default, restore it. And where it holds to that which is just and compassionate, support it.”
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.