Gerald Ford made me stop twice in life. He never even knew it. He didn't even know I existed, but nonetheless, stop me he did! Once as a young man and one more time in the autumn of life.
Over 30 years ago, I was coming home from a long day's work in Pasadena, California. My normal routine drive was suddenly ground to a halt.
The traffic lights were flashing, sirens were wailing, swarms of motorcycle patrolmen came sweeping through in front of me, and several just planted themselves at each corner of the intersection as the others moved forward.
A train of long, sleek black limos came swooshing by my little blue '73 Pinto, and then finally came one with the flags of the United States on it surrounded by even more officers.
My head kept on going back and forth as this spectacle unfolded before me. It dawned on me, "Oh yeah, the president is in town and he must be going down to spend the night at the Huntington Sheraton Hotel."
And then, just as quickly as the presidential entourage had come upon me, it was gone. Here on a little street, alone in the dark, I had a front-row seat to witness the symbolism and, yes, reality of raw earthly authority passing before me. And I didn't even have to pay admission. I must say it was quite impressive.
Halting in the road of life
The second stop came just a few weeks ago as a "veteran pol" closed his eyes for the last time. Again, I came to a halt in the road of life as much of the nation reviewed the legacy of the man from Grand Rapids, Michigan. What were we to make of this seemingly common man who by the sweep of unparalleled events was ushered into the oval office as its only unelected chief executive?
All of a sudden every corner of America seemed to want to reach out and honor this "accidental president." A march of honor was carved out from the palm-lined streets of Rancho Mirage to the national capital's rotunda to Michigan's version of Main Street, U.S.A. All of us began to ask ourselves what made this most common of presidents so uncommon in this most exclusive fraternity on earth—the U.S. presidency.
Perhaps it was all the more poignant that it was over that same weekend that Saddam Hussein was executed. The clashing contrast between two lives could not be more stark.
Here, on one hand, was a man who spent his whole life seizing power, stealing office and demanding slavish adoration for everything he did, only to die the death of a common criminal, despised by the many.
Then, on the other hand, another man who never sought absolute power, but was forced by events beyond his control to wield the greatest powers on earth. And with history revisited in death, he was appreciated by the many from all walks of life.
What we bring to life!
So what did I learn on my second stop caused by this man? It was more than simply the trappings of power of whirling lights and screeching sirens and long limos whisking through the night. It was not what the office brought to the man, but what the man brought to the office and, for that matter, to life itself.
Simply put: He brought himself. He understood what he had to give; what he was and what he was not. He accepted that and refused cheap imitation. He did what he could, and at the end of the day, he stayed himself.
Being unelected by the people, Mr. Ford recognized that Mt. Rushmore was already overcrowded with the craggy busts of great men and that his head was not destined to rest among the luminaries. There was no need for another "Father of our Country," "Great Emancipator," "Father of the Declaration of Independence" or hero of San Juan Hill. But, there would be room in history's long pages of addendums for what common people with the common touch can add.
I remember 1974 and 1975. Perhaps you do too. The nation was torn between the twin challenges of Watergate and winding down the war in Vietnam. You and I were not in the driver's seat, but Gerald Ford was!
And then he did what was considered the unthinkable to many—he pardoned the disgraced president who had selected him to be his unelected vice president. Washington politics! Deal making! He notoriously became "the man who pardoned Richard Nixon." All the good will and high hopes for this nice guy went out the window and down the drain.
And Vietnam? Who alive at that time can ever forget that helicopter with the long rope hovering over the U.S. embassy in the chaos of a fallen Saigon? President Ford didn't start it, but the tragic exit is recorded in his part of the almanac.
But the times we live in are not always the best judge of character. Our character must rise to our moment. We can't always choose our battles, but we can choose how to battle. As is so often the case, it is only in retrospect that people can make sense of the times they have experienced.
Imagine 33 years after Watergate for Democrats and Republicans, alike, to call the man who had been so viciously pilloried by so many the "Healer in Chief." "Healer in Chief"? Not bad, not bad at all!
I stopped and was reminded that not all the pages of history are yet written nor all the adulatory nicknames of presidents yet inscribed in stone.
Can't always choose our battles
It made me think about a Christian's calling to fulfill the prophetic reality of Revelation 5:10 Revelation 5:10And have made us to our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
American King James Version×, which describes the destiny of saints to become "kings and priests to our God."
I remember as a young boy hearing about the coming Kingdom of God. Sometimes it seemed as if all the "kings and priests" jobs had already been spoken for. It seemed that all those golden nameplates on the office doors of the Kingdom were signed, sealed and taken, though not yet delivered.
Abraham, David, Daniel, Paul and Joseph all had seemingly secure job assignments. It seemed as if all the organizational boxes were filled up in some people's minds and that all the titles had already been granted.
So, as a young boy, I thought for a moment. Why even move forward if everything was already ordained from on high? What incentive was there for me to step out, step up to God and meet the challenges of my time? What about the common man who in his time might face uncommon problems, and yet through it all glorify God?
Well, I thought about this for only a moment, and then I smiled. I smiled because early on in life I came to recognize that some people look at God as filling up boxes on an "org-chart," and it makes them comfortable filling in times, places, dates and personalities.
And then there are other folk who view God as being the One who opens up windows on eternity and countless possibilities. Did you know that when you open up windows, it lets a lot of fresh air come in? It makes you breathe better. It makes you want to do something.
I smiled as I realized there was going to be a whole lot of living yet to occur with all sorts of people to populate those times along the way. And in their time and in their way they would have to step through the panic of their times and find the answers on the other side.
The story isn't over
Oh yes, there will always be a "Father of the Faithful" like Abraham and a king over all of Israel in the future like David, but God is not finished writing His story. Not all the titles, not all the positions and, most importantly, not all the room in God's heart and the hearts of His saints are so filled that there isn't room for your contribution.
What I do know by opening the pages of the Bible is that God doesn't start with marble or granite in creating those who will successfully circumnavigate the news events and prophecies that unfold in their time. He starts with something as common as muddy clay and says, "Look what I am going to do. Nothing so grand has ever been done with so little, but I will turn it into my glory!"
God likes doing that a lot. He really does! Abraham Lincoln caught on to that notion when He said, "God must like the common man, because he made so many of them."
You may contribute a verse
Gerald Ford, the common man's president, was faced with gigantic challenges in his time. As president, he didn't have the luxury of passing difficult decisions up the chain of command. It's interesting that as God's elect (1 Peter 1:2 1 Peter 1:2Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, to obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you, and peace, be multiplied.
American King James Version×), we were never voted into this office of discipleship by one human vote cast in our favor. Our mandate and support come from Him. And ultimately, it is not even history or our fellow man that judges us, but only God.
Perhaps it is in the words of the American sage, Walt Whitman, that we discover the role of the common man and think of the contribution yet to be made in God's story.
"O me! Oh life! Of the questions of these recurring; "Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities filled with the foolish… "What good amid these, O me, O life? "Answer. That you are here—that life exists and identity; "That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse." It reminds me of the clarion call of "this is the way, walk in it" (Isaiah 30:21 Isaiah 30:21And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk you in it, when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left.
American King James Version×).