Monday, July 4, 2016
The Genius Cluster That Made America
On this Fourth of July Monday (the 240th birthday of our nation), I want to reflect for a moment on the handful of geniuses that were assembled during the early parts of our country's founding (the "genius cluster" - as former Presidential speech writer Peggy Noonan would call it). Most scholars agree that it was not simply the unique global geopolitical circumstances that contributed to America's ability to become independent and form the first Federal Republic in the history of the world, but it was the handful of truly gifted leaders and geniuses of different stripes who were assembled on the American stage at that time. You know the names as individuals, but stop for a moment to consider them as a group:
Thomas Jefferson - the philosopher genius who was an expert in enlightenment, post-enlightenment, and renaissance thinkers and who penned the first documents in our country.
Benjamin Franklin - the inventor and diplomatic genius who worked assiduously to develop support for thirteen colonies and the would-be United States in Holland and then France. Without him, America would have remained just a theory and a dream.
John Adams - the political genius who muscled through the idea of an independent America within the United States. Without Adams' pugnacious persistence, convincing supporters of the American cause to rally, America would have been for not.
Alexander Hamilton - the financial genius who devised one of the first centralized banking systems in the world, which consolidated the power of the government into a more crystalline central core. Before him, money was held by wealthy land-owners only, and if you borrowed, you borrowed from them.
George Washington - the persevering military genius who kept together a band of rebels and rabble rousers that called themselves soldiers, fighting with almost no supplies or means (or even uniforms) against the greatest military in the world.
Jay and Monroe could be added....and the list goes on. The question, again, is not that such people would have lived at all, but that such people would have lived at the same time in the same place and rallied for the same cause. "Genius clusters" - Peggy Noonan argues (in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece on July 3) - "happen in history and no one knows why." Noonan asked a great historian about the phenomenon once. How did it happen? "Providence," he guessed.
So it is God who assembles such genius clusters. I agree with this!
There are countless other examples of genius clusters that have taken place in history. Some have argued that during World War II - FDR, Churchill, and de Gaulle represented a kind of genius cluster. There were military genius clusters as well during World War II - Marshall, Eisenhower, Bradley, Montgomery, Patton, MacArthur, Nimitz, Bull Halsey, and Stilwell. In the Civil War there was Grant, Lee, Stonewall, Sherman, Sheridan and Lincoln.
As a pastor, I have thought about genius clusters that have occurred in the church throughout history. Whenever any great innovation or advent came about (the Reformation for example), it was not simply the result of one great thinker or even two - but a cluster of geniuses.
Martin Luther - the courageous genius who developed the idea, for the first time since Paul's epistles, that we are "saved by grace". Luther's genius was having the tenacity to take the idea to Rome and the corrupt papacy.
John Calvin - the systematic genius and student of the law, who boiled all of the Reformation ideas down into crisp, clear systematized concepts and ideas that people could use.
John Knox the political theologian genius who helped put in place ideas like free public education, checks and balances in government, and a nationalized reformed church.
Jan Hus, Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe and Zwingli should also go on the list. Again, not to belabor the point, but why were these people assembled at a particular time in human history for a particular cause? Noonan observes that, "genius clusters require deep crises, otherwise their gifts are not revealed." And, "members of genius clusters tend to pursue shared goals."
As I think about the radical changes that need to take place in North American Christianity for it to thrive, the way it has in history, I wonder if there are enough geniuses around - "genus clusters" - to move the faith forward in any concerted or focussed way. Frankly, what we have seen more of in early 21st century is trend towards is "genius fracturing" rather than "genius clustering". Most of the great Christian thinkers and pastors, seem to be working at cross purposes to bring about more of what they consider important ends. Perhaps the "fracturing" is a result of personalized ends rather than group causes.
On this fourth of July what we need is - more clustering, less fracturing!
Thank God for our founders - on this 240th - Fourth!
All For Now,