Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Presidential Elections? 60 years ago...

Even here in wee Northern Ireland, the US Presidential elections are getting pretty heavy news coverage. Obama or Clinton or McCain?*

I'm no expert on US politics (I'm sure John Killian can keep me right), but I've been interested over the past year or so in a former candidate - Henry Wallace (1888 - 1965) - who ran for the "Progressive Party" in 1948. He had been Vice President during WW2. His post-war position was to feed the world, not to destroy it. He wanted to build up the ordinary American farmer by encouraging new agricultural practices and methods that would both rebuild the economy and feed people who needed it.

Wallace's father, or maybe his grandfather (they were BOTH also called Henry Wallace!) was a big hitter in the early days of The Scotch-Irish Society of the USA, and he wrote a lengthy article in their 1892 "Proceedings" called "The Scotch-Irish of Iowa". In it he wrote:

...Wherever you find the (Scotch-Irish) race there you find the Sabbath, and a plain and simple worship that deals with the highest themes, and an industry and thrift that needs no fawning to secure its rewards. These are the racial characteristics that will abide with us as long as we teach our children the Catechism; so long as we preserve the Scotch-Irish Sabbath, and retain our conviction that the great supreme Power that is behind and over all is the rewarder of the righteous and the foe of every form of oppression.

So long as this moral environment is maintained the Scotch-Irishman will be found battling for civil and religious liberty, as he has done in all his past history. He will ever be striving, whether North or South, in America or Europe, to realize an ideal state and an ideal home. He may be masterful and dominating, ill to force, unjust sometimes, but only when the truth and the just cause has not been pleaded at the bar of his conscience.

He is now just beginning to recognize the value of his achievements on this continent... it is only in free America, modeled in its political institutions, on the principles of the Scotch Presbytery, that the Scotch-Irish character can reach its highest development....

Rousing stuff indeed! A while back my late friend Brian Richmond loaned me a CD by a now-defunct band called The Hangdogs. They recorded one of Henry Wallace's campaign songs on their 2003 album "Wallace 48". Some of the lyrics and songs on the cd are what we Ulster folk would call coooooorse, but "Wallace 48" is a real standout, and worth bearing in mind when we look a Presidential elections today. Sounds very familiar...

Brother have you heard the news?
There's another war a-brewin'
With 60 million still warm in the ground...
Republican or Democrat,
The bosses call the shots
Big business, war and empire intertwined...
"No more hunger, fear or A-bombs
Across the world and across the land!"
Cries the uncommon champion
Of the common man...
That quiet Iowa farmer
Henry Wallace is his name...

(the line "Big business, war and empire intertwined..." sounds a lot like what Eisenhower famously called "the military-industrial complex" in his ominous farewell speech of 1961. Watch it on Youtube below)

*ps - what little reading I've done about the current US Presidential election leads me to prefer many of the policies of Ron Paul. But, ultimately, as Henry Wallace wrote, "...the great supreme Power that is behind and over all is the rewarder of the righteous and the foe of every form of oppression..."

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Hymns of Samuel Rutherford?

Rutherford didn't write any hymns of his own, but The Letters of Samuel Rutherford are regarded as some of the finest Christian literature ever written. They have inspired believers across the world for generations. Here's a great example of their impact:

In 1857, an Edinburgh woman called Ann Ross Cousin (1824-1906) was given a book of Rutherford's letters. They had such a deep effect on her that she wrote two mighty hymns - "Oh Christ What Burdens Bowed Thy Head", and "The Sands of Time Are Sinking" (also sometimes called "In Immanuel's Land")

Two brilliant old hymns.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Samuel Rutherford, the Covenant and the "Eagle Wing"

Samuel Rutherford(1600 - 1661) was one of the great "minds" of the Covenanters. I bought a book of his letters yesterday, in the Evangelical Bookshop in Belfast (the wee one beside Church House), in the second hand section at the back. (in my student days that was a weekly forage for me!)

I was delighted to see that Rutherford corresponded with Rev Robert Cunningham of Holywood, and was obviously aware of the plans of Blair, Livingstone, Hamilton and McClelland to sail to America on "Eagle Wing" - they sailed from Groomsport in County Down on 9th September 1636 with 136 other Ulster-Scots Presbyterians in what was the first attempt to emigrate from Ulster to America.

Just a few months after Jenny Geddes hurled a stool at the Dean in St Giles' in Edinburgh, Rutherford was ousted from his ministry at Anwoth by the Bishop of Galloway on 27th July 1636 and was banished to Aberdeen in the north of Scotland. A week later, on 4th August 1636, he wrote (from Aberdeen) to Cunningham in Holywood. Rutherford said:

"...I know not, my dear brother, if our worthy brethren be gone to sea or not. They are on my heart and in my prayers. If they be yet with you, salute my dear friend, John Stuart, my well-beloved brethren in the Lord, Mr Blair, Mr Hamilton, Mr Livingstone and Mr McClelland, and acquaint them with my troubles, and entreat them to pray for the poor afflicted prisoner of Christ. They are dear to my soul. I seek your prayers and theirs for my flock; their remembrance breaketh my heart..."

What is significant is that the Ulster ministers were not some maverick rump doing their own thing - they were deeply interconnected with their fellow ministers in Scotland. For someone of Rutherfords standing to be aware of their plans to sail to America also opens other questions - was "Eagle Wing" the advance party, and had it succeeded how many others would have followed them to the New World?