Heartifact #1-- I Like Ike

Over the last few years I’ve been in a process of streamlining my life to the essentials. That would apply to possessions, activities, clothing, just about anything really. I like the idea of traveling light—as a pilgrim. Every time I part with a box of unused or unneeded stuff I think a little chemical charge of endorphins or some such thing goes off in my brain. It feels good.

As I gradually divest myself of these things, I come across various artifacts in our “Great Basement of Unknowing” where all the detritus collected over the decades lies waiting in their assigned boxes. Some of these artifacts hold a special place in my heart, various “touchstones” that spark memories of key moments in my story and my spiritual formation. Corny as it may be, I’ve come to now think of them as “heartifacts”.

One such heartifact is an old presidential campaign button that says, “I LIKE IKE”. In light of our current slate of strangest-of-all presidential candidates I’m thinking of wearing my “Ike” button for a while. At least until November 8th.

Ike was the nickname for our 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and today, October 14, is his birthday. The former Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, he was a 5 Star Army General  so highly regarded that both Democrats and Republicans begged him to run for the Oval Office in the years following the end of the war.

He did end up running and won by a landslide in 1952, his only campaign slogan the simplistic, “I Like Ike”. Could you imagine that carrying any weight today? “I’m With Her” and “Make America Great Again” notwithstanding, there’s something truly folksy and authentic about “I Like Ike”. Or maybe it’s just nostalgia kicking in. There was nothing buffoonish or crooked about this presidential candidate. He had the personal gravitas to carry the election, riding a groundswell of public affection from across the political spectrum. (Sigh) Can you imagine that?

Eisenhower  was a devout man who carried himself with a quiet and commanding dignity. I like that. He knew how to wage and win a war against evil tyranny that systematically murdered millions. And at the right time he knew how to make peace. He integrated the military, a daunting task in those days of “acceptable” institutional racism. He commissioned the building of our interstate highway system (one of my personal favorites—road trip!!), and generally left things in better shape by the time he left office. (Sigh) Can you imagine that?

 In his farewell address he famously (and ominously) warned of the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.” This—coming from a military man who happened also to be a Republican. Not a bad legacy.

This piece isn’t really about politics so much as (for me, at least) taking a step back from all the inflammatory rhetoric and agenda-driven arguments flying around to consider and weigh the things that matter to me. To streamline in another way. I have good friends on the political Right, and good friends on the Left. They tend to be people of good heart, intelligent thought and deep passion. I find anymore that I can’t (and don’t care to) fit neatly into any category, especially the political ones. I want to connect to human beings, even the ones I may disagree with.

I was born into a military family during Ike’s first term. I can imagine that for active military and WWII veterans, having Ike as Commander-in-Chief may have felt personally affirming. The President who came next after Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, was also a World War II vet, an actual hero (look up the story of PT 109 sometime).

My parents never really told me who they voted for, in fact we didn’t really talk a lot of politics that I can recall. I remember the somber feeling in our Air Force Base housing the day JFK died. I remember the escalation in Viet Nam through Johnson and Nixon, and all the civil tumult that accompanied it. The comparatively docile Eisenhower years quickly faded like some soft focus dream. The Wonder Years took on a decidedly dark edge. Our 1960s TV role model families, the Nelsons, Cleavers, Andy Griffith, et al, helped keep the dream alive while city streets erupted in violence and “For What It’s Worth” played on the radio.

So I grew up in a strange political stew of Right/Left/Right/Left. Like most of my peers who grew up in the 60s and 70s I took on a decidedly Leftward view as my Draft day appeared. As my 18th birthday approached I wondered whether I’d end up in Viet Nam. Like now, there was a lot of confusion, even amongst people who were clear in their own personal mission in their life and work, military or otherwise.

I’ve tried on both liberal and conservative viewpoints for size. I’ve voted both sides of the aisle, and for those without any aisle at all. I see no political ideology that can’t be coopted or coopt people of good faith. I’m not opting out of engagement with people, systems or institutions—but as I streamline my life to the Essentials I find that I want to relate to real people, regardless of their politics. I want to know the person by hearing and trying to understand their story. I don’t want to “pick sides” and in the picking lose the opportunity to connect at a human level that goes way deeper than temporary politics. So I guess I don’t fit neatly into the system. And I’m pretty OK with that.

I believe in a Kingdom that’s not rooted in this world, but in ultimate reality. It waits on the fringes, it permeates the world like a slow spreading yeast. It moves softly like a breeze. I see flashes of it now and again and it seems to take no interest in Right, Left, or any other manmade illusory division. I’m interested in seeing it revealed in my own life and in the lives of every person of good will. The presence of that Kingdom is drawn nearer by humility. I know this all sounds kind of Pollyanna-ish. But anger and fear cause spiritual blindness. I’m pretty sure of that. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.”