Our house shook violently, similar to a sonic boom but much bigger. My father and I ran outside to see what had happened. He said, “Get in the car.”
Driving eastward, we could see a black plume of smoke rising from the refinery where dad worked, and then saw the demolished remains of a large petroleum storage tank. Several men had been welding inside and on top of the tank, but it had not been adequately tested for flammable fumes. The mixture of fuel and air was sufficient to create a large explosion.
If I remember correctly, two men died and two were critically injured. Invisible things are more important than the things we see with our eyes.
Wall Street analysts focus on revenue, profit and loss, and return on investment. But less-tangible things are more crucial to the American economy – vision, purpose and confidence are key.
Perception is reality. A company or bank may be financially sound. But if doubts arise, it can be brought to the brink of collapse by mere rumor. Fear can be a self-fulfilling prophesy, made true because people believe it is true. Belief is everything. Why are the pieces of paper in our wallets (called dollars) valuable? Because people believe they have value. If that belief is shaken, the same pieces of paper may become worthless, like in Germany during the 1920s.
The U.S. today suffers from profound worry and fear for the future. Deep-seated angst has overtaken the American people. Polls consistently show that two-thirds of Americans believe our country is headed on the wrong tack. This can be explained by the statement: “For lack of a vision the people parish.”
Our nation became great not because of dollars and cents, capitalism, innovation or smarts. The source of our nation’s greatness came from its underlying vision and the principles that united the land in common purpose. The “American experiment” of government, by the people, for the people, under God, is a noble cause that produced unprecedented freedom and prosperity for the majority of U.S. citizens. In recent years, our nation’s vision and purpose have been battered, marred, diverted and are in danger of being forgotten.
There were other times in U.S. history when our nation went astray. The 1920s was a decade of American lostness, when image, money, position and self-indulgence were all that seemed to matter, resulting in the 1929 stock market crash and Great Depression. Our lostness continued during the poverty-stricken 1930s, when many Americans wondered whether the country could remain a free and democratic society, doubting that American greatness would ever be restored.
Franklin Roosevelt did not save the U.S. from the Great Depression, nor did his New Deal programs. The beginning of World War II in 1939 finally slapped the American economy awake, restarting factories to produce equipment used in the battle against Nazism, Fascism and Japanese aggression. When America entered the war in 1941, it united the nation in a valiant cause, leading our people to pray that our soldiers be spared, and that the flame of freedom be preserved.
When the war ended in 1945, the lostness and doubts of the 1920s and ’30s were forgotten, replaced by a renewed American vision and purpose. America, the beacon of democracy and the most religious nation in the world, was the country that led reconstruction after the World War II, leading the way to freedom.
American houses of worship were filled to overflowing in the 1940s and ’50s. Thousands of new churches were built from coast to coast; and America sent more missionaries to foreign lands than all other nations combined.
The U.S. is inextricably linked to our historic vision and purpose. When our identity is forgotten, we flounder as a nation. But when the vision is restored, we prosper and progress once again. This has been the history of our land, from British colonial oppression to the First and Second Great Awakenings, from slavery, the Civil War and Great Depression to the post-World War II renewal. When America’s vision and faith is lacking, this is when we become divided, depressed, doubting, lacking confidence, and fearful for the future. When the vision is restored, our land is renewed.
America’s historic vision is invisible, but it is the thing that made our nation great. Vision is more powerful than explosive gases, mightier than money, more valuable than jewels. May the American vision be renewed, that we might become a beacon of hope to the world once more.
The Rev. Daniel Molyneux is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Fairfield. Reach him by email at [email protected]