Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Disaster of John Foster Dulles

In some earlier posts, I’ve mentioned the laudable history of Presbyterianism in Guatemala. Nonetheless, there are instances in which Presbyterians have also played a tragic role in Guatemalan history. One of the more deplorable figures was John Foster Dulles, U.S. Secretary of State from 1953-1958.

Dulles had deep Presbyterian roots. His grandfather was a Presbyterian missionary in India, his father was a Presbyterian seminary professor, and his own daughter became a Presbyterian minister. Raised in a strict religious environment, Dulles seemed headed for the ministry himself. But he eventually chose a career in law and politics as a student at Princeton University. While he gained power in government circles, Dulles kept up his religious involvements and was ordained as an elder at Manhattan’s Brick Presbyterian Church. During the 1920’s and 1930’s he represented Presbyterianism at church conferences around the world, and he was Chairman and Co-founder of the Commission on a Just and Durable Peace of the Federal Council of Churches. In 1924, he served as the defense for Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick against notorious heresy charges that were brought against him while pastor at New York City’s First Presbyterian Church.

Unfortunately, the religious interests of John Foster Dulles didn’t prevent him from acting disgracefully in the political arena. One of his worst exploits was the coup d’état in Guatemala that he orchestrated in 1954 as Secretary of State during the Eisenhower administration. It destroyed democracy in Guatemala for over a generation. He was driven by cold war paranoia, a love for multi-national corporations, as well as a personal stake in the profitability of the United Fruit Company, on whose board he sat. Claiming that the redistribution of fallow United Fruit land was proof that communists were running the country, Dulles meticulously planned the overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz. This turn of events was disastrous for Guatemala’s people, leading to four decades of dictatorship, human rights horrors, deepening hunger, and general havoc. It also ruined U.S. credibility as a proponent of democracy in Latin America, and set a precedent for the manipulation of the United Nations by world powers.

Why do I bring up this regrettable connection between a prominent U.S. Presbyterian and Guatemala? Well, I’m not exactly sure. Of course, Presbyterians today shouldn’t be held responsible for the travesty of another Presbyterian over 50 years ago. Nonetheless, it’s important to remember these things. As we urge that the perpetrators of genocide in Guatemala be brought to justice, it doesn’t hurt for us to be aware of sins from our own past in this part of the world. When we denounce inequitable social structures in Guatemala, it’s not bad for us to confess some historical complicity in the continuation of such structures. In general, I think it’s also good for U.S. Presbyterians to demonstrate extra humility, graciousness and understanding toward Guatemalan Presbyterians in their struggles, and to consciously avoid the arrogance of those who suppose we’re better off than they are because somehow we’re that much better.

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My Sermon at Daniel and Holli’s Wedding

Someone might wonder how this post relates to mission work in Guatemala. I suppose that it relates in that misionaries usually have family and other loved ones back in their home countries, and they don’t cease to be important to them. On Saturday, August 11, my son Daniel married his fiance Holli Turner at Buckley Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado. It was a manifold blessing–to be there along with Bacilia and Daniel’s siblings, to join with my father and my siblings there, to meet Holli’s family, and to be privileged to officiate at the ceremony. The greatest blessing is to know that Daniel has found someone with whom he can share the best of life’s joys and challenges.

So, here’s the sermon I delivered at the wedding:

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

— Ephesians 3:14-19

We think of a wedding in lots of ways—walking down the aisle, getting hitched, tying the knot, joining your better half, strapping on the old ball and chain. Webster’s Dictionary defines wedding as “the fusing of two metals with a hot torch.”The term “wedding” comes from the Old English weddian, which means “to pledge;” It’s also linked to the German wetten, which means “to bet.” Hmm. Is getting married comparable to placing a bet, to taking a gamble?

Unfortunately, the odds aren’t that great for some marriages. Around half of marriages fail altogether. Many more suffer. The good news is that more and more couples are finding out what makes a marriage a sure thing instead of a shaky bet.

These ideas dovetail with the Air Force. Yes, I said the Air Force, which is certainly a big part of your relationship. After all, you met at Goodfellow AFB in Texas. You’re tying the knot at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado. And your first home will be Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina.

The values of the U. S. Air Force are: “Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence in All We Do.” Those are actually excellent values for a marriage too. We often think of integrity as sticking to a moral code, but it also means that everything is integrated and fitting together. Integrity is the state of being complete or undivided. Biblically it’s called “becoming one flesh,” joining together on all levels—hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits, all that you are, and all that you have.

“Service before self” means that what you want individually isn’t what matters the most. That makes sense in a marriage, where your priority is what you can give to each other, not what you can get from each other. Today you’re making a commitment to serve one another, to be subject to one another in love.

“Excellence in All We Do” means that you want your marriage to be the best it can be. You’re going to keep working at it, never let the relationship coast, resolving conflicts, and always keep each other at center stage.

An unofficial Air Force motto is, “No one comes close.” That’s a pretty good motto for a marriage too. As much as you care for your parents, your other family members, and your friends, you’re now each other’s number one. That’s what the symbolic act of giving away the bride is all about, that thing that Holli’s dad did just a moment ago.

In a strong marriage, no one else comes close, except God Almighty. In the scripture passage that I read from Ephesians, the Apostle Paul starts by saying that he’s praying for our families. Holli and Daniel, I want you to know that you’re in lots of people’s prayers.  You have lots of people who care about you, who are cheering for you, rooting for you, and praying for you. That’s why all of us are here today.

Then the scripture goes on to say something else. It says that God’s boundless, glorious resources will empower and strengthen you and your family. Daniel, Holli, I want you to know that as much as you’re in love with each other, it’s not enough. Our human love tends to be fickle and self-centered, and couples that rely upon it alone put their marriages at risk. God’s love is perfect and everlasting. God wants you to always include his love in your marriage, because without it your marriage won’t be complete. That’s why God’s here today.

Paul lets on that it’s not easy for us to fathom the love of God—it’s width, its length, its height and depth. God’s love is wide enough to embrace all of humanity. God’s love is long enough to last forever. God’s love is high enough to reach the heights of heaven. And it’s deep enough to reach the most fallen sinner.

Holli, Daniel, make sure that your marriage always includes God’s love. There’s no person, nothing seen or unseen, no trial or tribulation that can separate you from the love of God. Let your roots grow deep in God’s love. If you do, your marriage won’t only be good, it will be great! If you do, there’s no limit to how strong and wonderful your marriage can be. If you do, the sky’s the limit for you!

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A Toast to Daniel and Holli

Here’s the toast (perhaps a little lengthy, but nobody dared to stop me) I made to Daniel and Holli on the night before their wedding, which took place on August 11 in Denver, Colorado:

It seems like only yesterday that I drove home from Baptist Hospital in Nashville after the birth of my first son, Daniel. I couldn’t figure out how to latch the child safety seat, so Daniel’s grandmother Joyce held him tightly in her arms in the back seat, and I nervously drove about 20 miles an hour to our little parsonage about 45 miles out of town. That child safety seat, I’m afraid, was the first of many things I couldn’t figure out during the years to come.

Several months later Daniel’s grandfather baptized him at the little country Methodist church in Cedar Hill, Tennessee. When Daniel was two years old, he brought down the house at the Christmas pageant in Cowan, Tennessee by playing the first notes to “Joy to the World” on his little toy piano.

Daniel was always helpful around the house. Once when he was four, in Tullahoma, Tennessee, I saw him pour a glass of milk on a potted plant at our home. I asked why he was doing that, and Daniel said, “You told me milk makes you grow, and I want the plant to grow.” That same year Daniel was watching me mow the backyard when I ran into a nest of angry yellow jackets. The chased me across the lawn, stinging me while I yelled and screamed. Finally after hiding in the garage, I stuck my head out and Daniel was there, saying, “Papa, do that again!”

Once we visited the Holy Land when Daniel was five, and each day the tour bus took us to what seemed like an endless string of holy sites. One day Daniel had enough and he threw a fit, yelling, “No more churches, no more churches!” Pretty soon he had some of the others passengers chanting along with him, “No more churches, no more churches!” Over the years Daniel went to lots of churches, but I don’t remember him jumping up and down in protest anymore. He must’ve kept it to himself.

When Daniel was in the second grade, while we lived in Honduras, Daniel and I climbed Pumpkin Hill on the island of Utila. We got stuck alone on a slippery cliff with a few frayed ropes, unable to go up or down. I was scared, although Daniel didn’t know it, and I prayed for help. I trusted God, Daniel trusted me, and slowly, carefully we inched our way back down to safety. Daniel shouted, “I want to do that again, Papa!”

Over the years, there was crying over skinned knees, throwing the ball around, and lugging around musical instruments. We faced our share of disappointments and struggles, and God helped us through them all.

Daniel loved to be sung to at bedtime, and to hear made-up stories. When Daniel was 10, in Manchester, Tennessee, I spent a several hours secretly sticking glow-in-the dark stars and planets on his bedroom ceiling. That night, after his bedtime song and prayer, I kissed him goodnight, turned off the lights, and closed the door.  Daniel was enthralled, and shouted for me to come back in. He had a look of marvel on his face, and he said, “Papa, you did all that for me?”

The truth is, as a father I wish I could’ve done a lot more. There are many things I missed, and other things that I wish hadn’t happened.

Nonetheless, I’m immensely grateful to God for the road that we’ve traveled together—Daniel, me, his mother Sandra, his stepmother Bacilia, and our whole family.

Now, I’m grateful for the start of a beautiful new journey, with Daniel walking down the aisle with a most special, most wonderful woman, Holli.

So, join me in honoring the bride and groom. To my son Daniel, your giving heart and loving spirit have brought you a beautiful gift, your bride Holli. Cherish her at all times. Holli, you’re indeed a precious gift from God. I welcome you to the Beisswenger family with all my heart, and I rejoice in Daniel’s blessing in finding you, and your blessing in finding him.

Daniel and Holli, I give you my whole-hearted blessing and my hope for all of God’s blessings for a wonderful future together. Family and friends, let’s raise our glasses and toast to Daniel and Holli, for a fruitful lifetime of love and joy!

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