It was on my parents' farm that I learned that personal responsibility and hard work are the levers that move this world. At the crack of dawn each morning, the hands of my 10 brothers and sisters felt the honest friction of movement against the earth. We tilled soil, slopped pigs, cropped tobacco. The family farm was small, but my father was so proud of it that he seemed to view his labor not as daily drudgery but as a spiritual mandate.

In particular, I recall one hot, balmy day when my father asked me to crop a few more rows of tobacco before quitting. Those tobacco rows were the only things keeping me from my mother's cooking. They now stretched out before my tired body, taunting me. "I just can't do anymore--I'm going to pass out," I protested. My father responded plainly: "Son, you've got to get to the end of the road." With my father's stern dignity propelling me forward, I completed not only that row but two others before we finished for the day. Sore and spent, I entered the farmhouse aware of the power of human striving.

Against this backdrop, I understood that without a sense of religious and moral striving, we're condemned to aimless, formless lives. We cannot grow, we cannot achieve authentic discovery, and our eyes cannot open up to the truly beautiful possibilities of life if we simply live a neutral existence. The great mediator of any community is the foundation of spirituality and the social striving that human morality brings. From this spirituality and morality springs a code for living together. Without them, we are condemned to failure as a community.

As President Dwight D. Eisenhower and others have said:

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in the fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there.... Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good--and if America ever ceases to be good,America will cease to be great.

Today America is glutted with prosperity but empty in soul. The transient trappings of society can never truly lessen the burden of human anxiety, of an empty spirit. How do we keep this spiritual numbness from inhibiting and destroying us? The answer is straightforward: we must revel in the greatness of fundamental pleasures--family, civility, and the striving for moral excellence.

I continue to carry these thoughts not only as memory but also as a means of constant rejuvenation. And it is through the filters of family, civility, spirituality, moral striving, and, I hope, more inspiration than desperation that I shall attempt to comment on our politcial and social landscape.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad