April 23, 2014

Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. Acts 4:13

There’s a Dwight D. Eisenhower memorial in the works for the National Mall in Washington, D.C., but don’t expect to see it anytime soon.

Several memorials already grace the 1,000-acres of parkland, officially named the National Mall & Memorial Parks (NAMA), to other presidents (Jefferson, Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and wars (WWII, Korean War Veterans and Vietnam Veterans), plus statues, additional historical sites and memorials, gardens and parklands. So while the location is nailed down, the design is not.

Earlier this month, the National Capital Planning Commission—which oversees D.C. monuments—voted against the design by renowned architect Frank Gehry, because of issues related to the large stainless steel tapestries that are key components of the plan.  They are part of the backdrop depicting the Kansas plains, where Eisenhower grew up. Gehry’s proposal, selected in 2010 by the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, which is spearheading the project, shows Eisenhower as a youth gazing out at images of his adult achievements. Gehry says he was inspired by the general’s own depiction of himself as “a barefoot boy” in 1945, when he returned to Abilene after World War II.

And therein lies the memorial’s biggest problem. The Eisenhower family and others object to the display of him as a youngster or, as the New York Times put it, “a callow rustic who made good.”

“He was chief of staff of the Army; he was a two-term president of the United States,” granddaughter Susan Eisenhower is quoted as saying in the Times’ article. “It’s in those roles that American has gratitude for him, not as being a young boy with a great future in front of him.”

So while groundbreaking was scheduled for 2012, the project is again delayed as the Eisenhower Commission works with Gehry (or someone else, if he decides to wash his hands of the whole thing) on a design which will satisfy everyone.

I finally (it only took 2 months!) finished reading The Venus Fixers: The Remarkable Story of the Allied Monuments Officers Who Saved Italy’s Art During World War II by Ilaria Dagnini Brey (unless you’re familiar with great works of arts through the ages—which I’m not—you might find getting through the book hard going, as I did. This Smithsonian article, by the same author, is much more readable). One incident she relates is about Pisa’s Camposanto, a white marble edifice that serves as both a cemetery and museum, allegedly built around a courtyard sprinkled with earth from Golgotha, the mount where Jesus was crucified (John 19:17). During the campaign to liberate Italy, in July, 1944, the Camposanto (“sacred ground”) was hit by an Allied bomb fragment. The ensuing fire destroyed the roof, and its underlying lead sheets melted all over the inside. The medieval and Renaissance frescoes painted on the plaster interior walls detached and crumbled. The heat altered the colors of the paintings, and as it was nearly a month before the “Venus Fixers” got to the Camposanto, the damaged frescoes also baked in the summer sun.

What struck me about the floor-to-ceiling frescoes was the observation by Victorian art critic John Ruskin. They portrayed “the entire doctrine of Christianity, painted so that a child could understand it.” Then he added a parenthetical aside: “And what a child cannot understand of Christianity, no one need try to.”

Sometimes we Christians make the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ complicated. But really, it’s so simple that, as Ruskin noted, even a kid can comprehend it. Jesus Himself noted, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (Mark 10:15). Jesus’ followers weren’t the scholars of the day—they were “uneducated and untrained” men and women who didn’t understand it all even after following Jesus for three years (John 14:9). They simply believed on the basis of what they did know.

And that’s still all we need today. Several Bible verses contain the gospel message in a nutshell, but I’ll mention just two phrases: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), and “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and He was buried, and He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4).

I recognize why some don’t wish to see Eisenhower portrayed as a Kansas farm boy—and yet I like the concept of a humble youth envisioning with childlike wonder all that was yet to come.

And I strive to possess for myself and communicate to others a childlike belief that matures, inspires good works and looks forward to what lies ahead. Yep, that’s the kind of faith I’d like to be remembered for.

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