Truman & Hoover

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One of the books on my “to-read” list since last summer has been The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy. The book is an intriguing look at the relationships between past and present POTUS, beginning with Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman. For the twelve years that FDR was in office, Hoover was treated terribly by the president and the administration. But when Harry Truman unexpectedly assumed office in April 1945, he reached out to Hoover to help solve the food crisis in postwar Europe. Over Truman’s time in office, the two men forged a close relationship, one that began what is now known as “The Presidents Club.”

During Truman’s (a Democrat) administration, Hoover (a Republican) led the charge against a Republican Congress to expand the powers of the president. The changes Hoover championed were necessary because of the woeful and wasteful bureaucracy of the federal government. But though he had the opportunity to ruin Truman’s bid for reelection in 1948, he did not do so. As the authors write in the book, “Hoover appeared to steer by the principle that a successful overhaul of the presidency was more important than any individual campaign for it—even if that meant keeping the Democrats in the White House for four more years.”

That statement resonated with me arguably because today’s political climate is so polarized. It seems to me that we have too many people in Washington who want to do what’s best for their party rather than the country. Yet in the late 1940s, a Republican president did what he thought was best for the country and the presidency, not his party.

This is at the same time 1.) a condemnation of our “individual-first” culture, and 2.) a reminder of the power of a “team-first” mindset. Selfishness ruins not only the soul of an individual, but will poison a group as well. Selfishness in families can cause dysfunction for multiple generations. Selfishness in churches can handicap the spread of the gospel for decades. On the other hand, selflessness can bring harmony to a family that cannot be surpassed this side of heaven. Selflessness can empower groups of people to achieve goals and reach milestones previously thought to be unattainable. Most importantly, selflessness helps us be more like Jesus.

The apostle Paul warned about doing things out of selfish ambition. Rather, we are commanded to prefer others over ourselves (Phil. 2:3-4), which is nothing less than following the example Jesus set for us (Phil. 2:5-8). But I have found this example a very difficult one to follow consistently, and I’m willing to bet you have as well. It goes against our nature, and when something goes against our nature, it takes strenuous practice to redefine what is natural.

More so than by Hoover’s example, I am particularly inspired by Jesus’. He never used the fact that he was God to his own advantage. He always seemed to have time for everyone, regardless of how weary or frustrated he was. And when family members and religious leaders (the very people who should have known better) personally insulted him, Jesus showed remarkable grace and patience. Christ was committed to doing the will of his Father, regardless of what that required. You and I are the beneficiaries of such faithfulness and selflessness.

Is there someone in your life right now, whether in your family, in your circle of friends, or in your church, that you could serve today? Someone that could benefit from your faithfulness and selflessness? Is there someone that you could bless in such a way that it would cost you something? It’s easy to bless others in ways that require no sacrifice on our part. But it is profoundly difficult to bless someone at our expense, especially the expense of our personal agenda and will.

President Hoover was willing to do what was best for a political enemy because he believed in doing what was best for the group. I’d like to do the same, if for no other reason than that it is what being “Christ-like” demands. Going forward, I want to try my hardest to speak less and listen more. I want to do a better job of letting other people have the credit. I will endeavor to support “the group” (in whatever form) whenever my way is not popular or followed. It will be very difficult to do these things consistently, for old habits die hard. But if I stay at it, by God’s help, I know I will be successful. And if I were successful in these things, my family, my friends, and my congregation would be better off.

How ‘bout you? Have you witnessed a time when someone’s selflessness blessed another individual or group? Do know of a way you could show selflessness to someone else today? Share your experiences and ideas in the comments below or email me.

Father, thank you for the example of selflessness Jesus set for us. Help us to put others first, to do something that blesses others and that costs us something valuable. Be persistent in rooting out selfishness from our lives. Forgive our failures. As your grace and patience bears the fruit of selflessness in our hearts, may others see it and glorify your great name. We submit this request to you through Jesus himself, in hopes that we will be more like him.