I DON’T WATCH ANY TELEVISION series on a regular basis, but if I’m home and otherwise unengaged on a night when Tom Selleck and company are on the air in CBS’s “Blue Bloods,” I often tune in. In one episode, the New York City police commissioner meets with his two sons, one of whom is a detective and the other a uniformed officer. Theirs is a small common event fraternity of law enforcement personnel with a tragi-heroic experience none sought. Each of the three, at some point in his career, fired a weapon in the line of duty, saving the lives of other citizens, yet creating mortal consequences for the threatening perpetrator.
While debriefing with genuine remorse that they ever found themselves in such no-win situations, they converse about statistics indicating how rarely this actually occurs. Then together, as if giving themselves both solace and encouragement, they recite (almost as an Affirmation of Faith in a worship service), a quote by former New York City police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (1895-1897), saying: “It is not the critic who counts; not the one who points out how the strong person stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends oneself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if failing, at least fails while daring greatly, so that one’s place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Roosevelt’s late 19th century leadership during his two years of service as NYC police commissioner was characterized with reforms and modernization, very often in the face of entrenched opposition from traditionally corrupt players. The particular sentences quoted in the television episode (and with which I was unacquainted), I later discovered are part of a speech which T.R. delivered thirteen years after resigning as NYC police commissioner and a year after serving completing his second term as U.S. president.
He was speaking at the Sorbonne in Paris on April 23, 1910. The speech was entitled “Citizenship in a Republic.” It is a lecture from which I would have benefitted, had I known about it and read it years ago. As much as I agree with and am intrigued by the “man in the arena” quote, “Citizenship in a Republic” is a worthy read both for citizens who profess no religious faith and for persons of religious faith different from Christianity, but it may resonate with value and helpfulness for anyone related to a Christian tradition-community and specifically to the Reformed branch of the larger Christian family, whether individuals be clergy, church officers and/ or church members. It is somewhat dense in sentence structure, and the vocabulary T.R. employed stretched me to check the definition of some words. His thoughts, however, related to citizenship, stewardship, responsibility (individual, corporate, and governmental), personal and public ethics, and history. Additionally, his hermeneutical method(s) enriched me immensely as a citizen and as a faith community participant and leader.
Since I do not recall being encouraged to study this speech at a point in years past, I’m grateful that the screenwriters of “Blue Bloods” included this reference in an episode; and I’m grateful for the Internet search engines that make the entire text accessible. For me at least, this recent 45 minutes of reading was truly valuable.
TED FOOTE is pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Bryan, Texas, and co-author of “Being Disciples Of Jesus In A Dot.Com World.”