In honor of President’s Day, I wanted to talk about a remarkable book my brother Ryan (check his blog out here) gave me for Christmas. Seven Miracles That Saved America: Why They Matter and Why We Should Have Hope (Shadow Mountain) by Chris Stewart and Ted Stewart is a really remarkable book.
It is highly readable (I read it in about 12 hours or lesson Christmas Day), cogently argued, and contagiously optimistic. Admittedly, I read it like ate my Christmas Dinner—quickly and with relish, as opposed to slowly and critically. However, I highly recommend this book.
The authors are uniquely qualified for their subject. Chris Stewart is a best-selling author. His brother, Ted, is a U.S. Federal Judge and this proves a potent combination. The book will have a familiar feel to LDS readers and the argument is certainly informed by LDS teaching and belief about America’s role as a Promised Land. However, there is nothing uniquely LDS about the arguments or ideas in this book, and religious people of many faiths will, I think, find much they can agree with.
The Stewarts’ central thesis is that there have been any number of times in America’s past where the nation’s survival swung on the tiniest hinges: occasions on which only a last-minute miracle saved the Republic. The bulk of the book details these miracles, and then the final chapter suggests that as bleak as things may seem now, they have been bleaker in the past. God has intervened a number of times when the United States needed it and the Stewarts argue that surely He will do so again: “At critical times in our nation’s history, God provided miracles to save us. And there are miracles yet to come. Why? Because America still represents something important to him” (pg. 14).
This book will not convince skeptics about God’s hand in the founding and preservation of this nation. However, if you are inclined to believe that God was involved, then this book is a bracing tonic against pessimism and defeatism.
The Stewarts intertwine historical narrative with historical fictional, recreating or highlighting key moments through a series of anecdotes. Using this method, they acquaint the reader with the miracles the made America possible to begin with: Columbus’s Discovery of the New World, the survival of the Jamestown Colonists, the last minute escape of Washington’s troops from Brooklyn, and the establishment of the U.S. Constitution. They then look at miracles that preserved the nation: the Battle of Gettysburg, the Battle of Midway, and the survival of Ronald Reagan (who won the Cold War).
For me, the fictional or imagined anecdotes were the most uneven part of the book. Some of them worked extremely well. The account of the East German prisoner, for example, was heartrending and chilling. It points to Chris Stewart’s skill as a novelist, because in less deft hands, this could have been either too graphic or not upsetting enough. This and other anecdotes left me wanting to read more.
Others anecdotes seemed not to have quite the same power and I felt at times that they had been written more because that was the chosen format for the book than that they happened to fit well with the subject. However, this is a very minor complaint.
I have to admit that one of the joys of reading this book is that it unabashedly defines and celebrates the idea of American exceptionalism. It does not waste a lot of time bowing to modish, militant multiculturalism, nor does it waste time apologizing for real and imagined offenses. This is contrary to the normal tone of historical narrative today and it makes the book unique, I think.
The Stewarts note America is imperfect, but this theme is not repeated and replayed and amplified at every opportunity. “No man is perfect,” they note towards the end, “And neither is any nation. Yet, despite our weaknesses, we are still, as Abraham Lincoln said, the best nation every given to man. Despite our faults, this nation is still the last, best hope of earth.” (pg. 294)
Some will, no doubt, find that to be simplistic and naïve, even offensive. I found it deeply refreshing.
To let this get in the way of reading and enjoying this book would be a mistake. No matter what side of the ideological aisle you are on, there is plenty to worry about these days.
However, this book will give you much to be hopeful about. The Stewarts are not blind to the challenges we face but they argue powerfully, I think, that “[God] still cares about this country. He loves this nation. He needs this nation. He is relying on this nation to be the light of freedom to the world” (pg. 289).
And, to those who object that God might have once blessed America in the past, before the nation grew wicked, the Stewarts have a rejoinder: the story of Abraham in Genesis 18:23. This is the account of Abraham securing a promise from God that He would not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if there were but ten righteous people. The Stewarts conclude with this thought: “If that is true, maybe we need not worry so much about our country and our people and whether our society has become too wicked, for surely there are a few wicked among us. Instead, maybe we need to concentrate on our own lives, our own goodness, our own families. Are we one of the fifty? One of the ten? Are we, those of us who still believe, living our lives in such a way that we could convince God to save our nation if only for the few?” (pg. 294).
I highly recommend this book. Read it and let it challenge you, either to see the country through a new light, or to do what you can to make the light shine a bit brighter.
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