History as Providence
My trophy corner.
We lived in the depression years of poverty when I was in third grade and about nine years old. I recall the scene as if it happened last month: My precious Mom, in tears and sobbing as she looked on the floor. An accident had shattered and scattered her beautiful glass and round fish bowl into a hundred pieces Nearly a gallon of water had spilled over the floor, while Mom’s pat gold fish kept on wiggling, obviously out of sheer desperation. She knew that we would have to save nickels and dimes for months to come to buy a new glass fish bowl and place it on the table where it would not be safe! This awful experience is deeply engraved upon my mind and for that reason I resolved to avoid collecting nice and precious articles that easily get broken or lost or stolen.
As a result, during my 80 years of living and 60 years of marriage, I have gathered only a very few treasured items. They are easily visible to me as I sit at my desk, look out of the windows and then glance sideways to what has become a bit of hallowed space and is known as “my trophy corner.”
I am excited as I share items from my trophy corner with you because I notice they follow a chronological order and are like several protruding sections of a telescope. Looking back shows a Devine design that makes sense as it unfolds progressively. God’s right hand keeps me, protects me, leads me, blesses me and gives me His peace! So, let’s look at my earliest trophy first.
It is an arm-band, now stretched out on a piece of wood. It used to have a black-ink stamp on it, but that evaporated long ago. From top to bottom there is a narrow blue band, followed by a much wider orange colored band with the word ORANJE in capitals which refers to the Royal Dynasty of the House of Orange. This is followed by a larger, then two smaller, and one more larger band, all in blue. This arm-band was our uniform. Usually we hid it in our pocket but at a moment’s notice we could wear it as a symbol of recognition! You may find a copy of this trophy in the War Museum at Leeuwarden, the Netherlands.
My 16th year is probably the most bizarre year of my life. A gnawing pain constantly reminds me of starvation. Utter boredom is intensified by Hitler enforcing nightly hours of house-arrest without allowing us any electricity or gas-light. Harsh winter weather stops all regular school hours as well. Aimless Allied bombs bring merciless destruction right where I live in our city of Haarlem. One exhausting and soul-torturing problem deals with the absolute uncertainty about how tomorrow will turn out, or next month, or will there be no future for me to live through at all? Is that true for my brother and my parents as well? War, hatred, and hell must have a lot in common. They leave an ugly taste in your soul, don’t they?
My first trophy speaks of an instant and radical change that lifts me out of this morbid swampland. Now barely 17, I begin to keep track of frequent and well-timed observations that gradually confirm my secret hopes that our neighbor across the street must be quietly involved in “the Underground.” Finally I can wait no longer, come what may. I obviously shock him when I tell him details about the people I have seen enter and leave his house during months of observation. He asks me to repeat my answer and I say: “Yes, it is true: what I’ve told you today I have not shared with any one else!”
The leaders agree not to lock me up. Instead they plan to use me for limited activity such as passing on stenciled pages of Underground News and I am to regularly attend our cell-activities. From fatalism my new dreams now “fantasize” about me outlasting this cruel war. Within the Underground organization I am one of the youngest members to join in the fight to regain our freedom. We are determined to win a peace that is going to be free from daily suspicions and distrust. Ours will be true Patriotism. The kind that is worth the risk of our lives. In secret we talk about this vision.
Back to the reality of the moment, we are still engaged with an enemy who has the advantage of being “above ground,” who rules by terror, who uses information they get from Nazi-sympathizing Dutch traitors who spy on us. Hatred fills my inner core when reliable sources tell my parents that one of my cousins is among 20 young people who get lined up before they are shot. Please stop and visualize: Those bastards who pull the trigger would have been shot in their necks themselves by their own officers, had they refused! That, my friends, is pre-hellish war of the WWII type, as experienced by one of the youngest soldiers serving in an Underground Resistance Movement in Holland. My trophy corner exhibits the evidence that I have been part of it and it has become part of me!
Two more little known but unforgettable impressions of this era: Towards the end of this war Hitler allowed Allied bombers to fly low along a route and open their bomb-bays to drop food for our starving people. We also received real white bread baked in and given by Sweden: Praise be to God!
Yes, many of us “made-it!” To understand me, read these six words as a sacred “Hallelujah-Chorus.” Follow this by a whole minute of silence, please.
My tears have been my food, day and night, while they continually say to me: “Where is your God?” Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; Oh deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man! Note the concluding refrain from Psalm 42 and 43 (NKJV): “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?” And the answer is: “Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, (who is) the help of my countenance and my God.”
The above exclamation pertains to ME: “I MADE IT” i.e. : I am a survivor! That recognition is completely void unless its sequence provides the most pivotal inquiry which is like the key that opens the door with one penetrating word: “WHY?” Some senior survivors suggested that my survival would open the door for me to go into business and become a very successful man! Is that why “I made-it?” To become a public target for the next enemy?
I think the Holy Spirit urged me to examine the conduct of my own parents. Under extremely harsh and life threatening circumstances they still live to do good to others. My Dad’s reason is so simple: “We share together and either we live together or we die together!” Here is practical Christianity, radiating God’s love in compassionate sharing. I love this life-style. It’s worth living for, all the days of my life.
My quest for “LIFE” turns into an adventure of simple obedience. Actually, my adventure is God’s arrangement for blessing me! His detailed pieces fit into a renewable scholarship to study in America and complete all college pre-sem requirements followed by three years of Seminary with a Th.B degree in theology. Along with these extraordinary privileges, as icing on the cake, God provides me with the girl of His choice to become my choice and life’s partner! And this is so typically another God-thing, my marriage to Her Majesty allows me to change my student-visa into immigrant status, leading to legal U.S. Citizenship! Hallelujah, I am an (adopted) American!
This awesome journey is rooted in my WWII tortured conscience. Soldiers, who face war, experience mind-screwing hatred that stimulates the energy to kill or to be killed as veterans of war. We do it to protect and hopefully to return HOME, some day! --- I “made-it.” But WHY? It is for God’s sake! Because God who IS Love equips us to triumph over hatred- - eventually?
This brings me to my trophy corner’s primary exhibition. My initial choice is that of accepting and propagating my parents’ convictions in contrast to a godless allure of “promised prosperity for all.” Hitler excelled with his stridently exuberant propaganda machine proclaiming the legitimate need for “lebens Raum” and promising a Volkswagen for ordinary folk “at the end of the rainbow,” after the inferior nations are serving us, the jews are exterminated and the “Uebermensch” (Superman) is in charge!
While that dream is still smoldering in its ashes, a new vision captures the imaginations of opinion makers. They eagerly develop the notion that the human is the most advanced product, evolved over millions of years and is now in charge of creation’s survival. To achieve this control, opposition must be silenced, the Government must be expanded and empowered to spread a fabricated and equalized euphoria to all the people on earth! (especially to both the middle class and the poor!)
While starting a new congregation in Tacoma, Washington I join the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) as a Chaplain, eventually with the rank of Major. Courses about the chaplaincy arouse my appetite for a clearer understanding of the Military Chaplain’s function. At the same time my gratitude for the Air Force of the United States made me long to wear their uniform and “repay a war-time debt of gratitude.” With God’s help I learned about and succeeded in being accepted to fill a vacant slot at McChord AFB. That makes me Chaplain Captain Rits Tadema. With the North Korean capture of the Pueblo intelligence gathering vessel our Reserve unit is activated and instantly I am catapulted into full time Active Service.
Before continuing, allow me one more flashback when WWII was in the process of ending. Our local Underground Resistance was arresting known Dutch traitors. Class rooms of a local grade school served as their holding pin. I clearly recall my first night on duty to watch these “prisoners.” An unexpected opportunity had come my way to stomp around on the wooden floor with my recently (“acquired”) German boots. I was determined that at least during my watch none of these dirty enemies would get a chance to find restful sleep! Sweet hatred energized my determination. By way of contrast, a few days earlier we had seen our very first Canadian soldiers become our LIBERATORS. In the process of securing an out-post of German soldiers we needed their help to complete that mission. What so shockingly (if not disgustingly) amazed each of us is seeing these healthy looking young Canadians operate without any obvious hatred for these enemies! Truly an exhibition of amazing grace blending war with peace!
From this scene we go fast forward for two decades to Lt. Col. William G. Hathaway administering the Oath of Office which qualifies me to function as an Officer in the United States Air Force! This distinction is based upon a recognized Theological education plus practical pastoral experience. My patriotic joy and theological orientation blend into an inspiring ministry!
I have wanted to first share some brute and harsh facts associated with the military demands upon human life. The amazingly beautiful blend couples this kind of human experiences with enlisting the ministry of Chaplaincy! The Pledge of Allegiance is a testimony to the utilization of “Pastoral care” as well-suited to U.S.Military service. In June 1954 an amendment was made to add the words: “under God.” President Dwight D Eisenhower said: “In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”
The Declaration of Independence of July 4 1776 expresses similar historical values by stating: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Based upon this framework that describes our national origin we understand that our Founding Fathers recognized that along with physical training our soldiers need soul-support. Consider this aspect that the Bible believing Chaplain contributes to the soldiers’ orientation:
1. This world is not a hostile environment “to do us in,” but this is “My Father’s World” subject to God’s directives.
2. The French Emperor is sadly mistaken when he boasts: “Apres nous le Deluge” meaning: After ME comes the deluge, i.e. nothing else matters. All that counts in life is limited to the here and now.
3. We are to benefit even our enemies by considering how we might love them and their families.
4. This life is preparatory to our timeless continuation under God’s plan as we may know it from the Bible and through the Holy Spirit.
A Chaplain in uniform, in our privileged nation, is given the awesome task of being a personal and professional blessing to fellow soldiers and their families, to serve our country wisely, cheerfully and to bless His Holy Name. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. (Ps.33:12)
In 1956 the National Motto of the United States became: “In God we trust.”