Wis­dom comes be­fore seren­ity

Record Observer - - Opinion -

At the end of the hall­way, near the laundr y room hung a sign in my par­ents house. The pic­ture was in­scribed with a short prayer that many of us are likely fa­mil­iar with in some vari­a­tion.

“God grant me the seren­ity to ac­cept the things I can­not change. Courage to change the things I can, and wis­dom to know the dif­fer­ence.”

I must’ve had it mem­o­rized by the time I was 5, just some­thing to read as I walked down the hall. Of course, be­ing at that age you’re likely to read ev­ery­thing. All the words, all the places, but you don’t re­ally fully grasp the con­tent of what you are read­ing. Nonethe­less, it was ce­mented early on in my memor y.

Fast for­ward some 30 odd years and those words still stick in my mind, I can re­cite them at any given time. Putting them into prac­tice though, a com­pletely dif­fer­ent story.

Seren­ity is an odd word, and not one we use com­monly in this par­tic­u­lar day and age, un­less you are in to med­i­ta­tion, I sup­pose. The state of be­ing calm, peace­ful and un­trou­bled, ac­cord­ing to Web­ster. I’d be will­ing to bet most of us aren’t.

But it is a worth­while en­deavor to ac­com­plish this state of be­ing. Karl Paul Rein­hold Niebuhr, the au­thor of what we now know as the Seren­ity Prayer, was an Amer­i­can the­olo­gian. Al­though he lived just 78 years, con­sider this. Niebuhr was born in 1892 and died in 1971. Imag­ine, the trans­for­ma­tions he saw take place first hand in this coun­try dur­ing that time span.

Iron­i­cally, Niebuhr was both a Chris­tian min­is­ter and a staunch sup­porter of the Demo­cratic party, a con­cept which by to­day’s thought seems to be mu­tu­ally exclusive of each other.

Ac­cord­ing to a bi­og­ra­phy of Niebuhr by Richard Fox, Niebuhr re­peat­edly stressed the need to be loyal to Amer­ica. All Ger­man Amer­i­can cul­ture in the United States and nearby Canada had come un­der at­tack for sus­pi­cion of hav­ing dual loyalties. Niebuhr won an au­di­ence in na­tional mag­a­zines for his ap­peals to the Ger­man Amer­i­cans to be pa­tri­otic. Is the par­al­lel clear? In the Jour­nal of Pres­by­te­rian His­tory, this was said of Niebuhr, “The­o­log­i­cally, he went be­yond the is­sue of na­tional loy­alty as he en­deav­ored to fash­ion a re­al­is­tic eth­i­cal per­spec­tive of pa­tri­o­tism and paci­fism. He en­deav­ored to work out a re­al­is­tic ap­proach to the moral dan­ger posed by ag­gres­sive pow­ers, which many ide­al­ists and paci­fists failed to rec­og­nize. Dur­ing the war, he also served his de­nom­i­na­tion as Ex­ec­u­tive Sec­re­tary of the War Wel­fare Com­mis­sion, while main­tain­ing his pas­torate in Detroit. A paci­fist at heart, he saw com­pro­mise as a ne­ces­sity and was will­ing to sup­port war in or­der to find peace — com­pro­mis­ing for the sake of right­eous­ness.”

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