- 1933 was probably the worst year in the Great Depression;
- One in four Americans was unemployed;
- The dust bowl threatened the country with strong winds skimming the top soil of the Great Plains, extending into neighboring states, and impacting the economy of the entire US;
- Adolph Hitler opened the first concentration camp at Dachau, as he assumed the role of Chancellor of Germany;
- The Japanese invented the machine gun, capable of firing 1,000 rounds per minute;
- There was a civil war in Cuba;
- The banking system of the US threatened collapse as people rushed to withdraw whatever savings they may have deposited;
- The German nation had never recovered from their defeat of WWI and the aftermath of economic isolation by the western powers;
- And many countries in the world experienced unemployment.
At that frightening moment world-wide, Roosevelt stood to take his oath of office and placed his right hand on a leather-bound Dutch language Bible made in 1686, opened to
I Corinthians 13.
You may recognize that chapter in the New Testament as containing these lines attributed to St. Paul:
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child;
but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (verse 11)
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but
then I shall know just as I also am known. (verse 12)
And now abide faith, hope, and love, these three, but the greatest of these is
love. (verse 13) (New King James Version)
This scripture wove its way into our public life for many occasions. I referenced its place in Roosevelt's ceremonial inauguration. And, of course, it most often appears in weddings, anniversaries, funerals occasionally, and other events where the attention is focused on love.
But love does not stand alone in this passage of scripture. "Love" has been woven into the triadic formula, accompanied and preceded by faith and hope. Granted, St. Paul leaves no room for debate as to the supremacy of love, but it follows faith and hope.
Is this simply a prosaic formula intended for oratorical impact in which "love" gains prominence, elevated to gain our attention? Or, might it be that "love" follows "faith" and "hope," both of which prepare us to understand "love" more deeply? Reasoning with his keen rabbinical, philosophical mind, St. Paul may have understood that love attains its "greatness" because it stands on the foundation of trust and confidence.
"Trust" and "confidence" are words—ideas, emotions, cognition—that interpret "faith" and "hope." So important is the word "trust" that it bridges the language of religion, politics, economics, politics, and psychology. In The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, you will find seven categories of meanings for "trust" with various sub-entries for each specific definition.
For example, definitions describe trust as the loyalty, strength, veracity, etc., of a person or thing. Then, the long list of additional definitions concludes with "a body of trustees, an organization or company managed by trustees." "Faith" as "trust" impacts our lives so profoundly that it makes possible not only healthy persons but also a healthy society. It is no wonder that Erik Erikson, the prominent teacher of psychoanalysis and human development, considered trust to be the first and foremost stage of a child's life.
No wonder, then, that Franklin Roosevelt began his first stage of restoring confidence in the government of the US by opening his Bible to chapter 13 in I Corinthians where St. Paul invokes the power and promise of faith, hope, and love. It was a foundation for Roosevelt's words of assurance, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."
These words rang through the radios of a frightened nation and opened the minds of its people to trust, even though the terrorism of foreign dictators and domestic opposition threatened the very foundation of our democracy.
Decades later in 1981, Ronald Reagan would anchor his approach to foreign policy by returning to trust. But in this instance, Reagan added a twist to implementing trust in the personal and governmental dealing with President Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet Union. Paradoxically, Reagan borrowed from a rhyming Russian proverb to describe his policy of nuclear disarmament between the US and the Soviet Union. Simply put, Reagan's policy was this: "Trust but verify." According to records of the Reagan presidency, Suzanne Massie introduced Reagan to the Russian proverb. Massie, an American academic, considered by some as "the woman who ended the cold war," met several times with President Reagan and coached him regarding Russia, its people, and culture. (See Massie's Trust But Verify: Reagan, Russia, and Me.)
"Trust but verify" served admirably as the premise for a foreign policy that ended the cold war. And now we come once more to another war, this time within our country. Now we face the breakdown of trust within the citadel of democracy, a breakdown between political, civic, and religious groups, even between family members. So rancorous has this divide become that we fear for our lives and the lives of our small children attending school. Now we fear the violence of domestic terrorism and the impasse of politicians posing in the marketplace of social media as fighters—a frequently used word by would-be political leaders to bolster their image by proclaiming they will "fight" for us. What a strange figure of speech to describe the working of a democratic government that came into being for the express purpose of a social contract "by the people and for the people," committed to a way of life free from tyranny, violence, and the bullying tactics of a pseudo-masculinity.
This is a way of life made possible by a bond of trust or, as St. Paul may have described it, the way of faith, hope, and love. Granted, for the apostle, this bond of trust is anchored within a spiritual reality in the heart of all people, whether they are conscious of it or not.
Roosevelt and Reagan believed it to be so. And so might we.