This American Life: Commander in Brief

549: Amateur Hour – Act 3: Commander in Brief

“Producer Stephanie Foo tells us the story of amateurs who for one night get thrown into a very, very big job — perhaps the biggest. President of the United States of America. (8 1/2 minutes)” – This American Life

Every year, as the President delivers the State of the Union address to an assembly of virtually every federal level leader of our country, an individual–the President’s hand-picked “designated survivor”—views the speech from afar. The idea is that were a nuclear bomb or some other great catastrophe to occur killing almost the entirety of the country’s leadership, this one individual would be prepared to step in as acting President. Though this individual would be required to immediately become Commander in Chief and respond to the largest military threat the country has ever faced, since the end of the Cold War the individual has been given a surprisingly little amount of training. In fact, the cabinet official selected is usually from a department that has almost nothing to do with national security. The 2015 designated survivor was the Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox.

Toward the end of the story, the conversation shifts toward what it means to be prepared to do the job. Should it require training? Should the President select someone with more extensive knowledge or experience? Is it a problem that the person who would become President may never have been on a ballot for elected office in their life? Thomas Reed, the person who created the concept and designed the program for the designated survivor, says, “The question in politics and a lot of others things in life is ‘compared to who?’ The question is not ‘Is so-and-so authorized or qualified to be president or governor or successor?’ The question is ‘compared to who?’” The reporter also notes that first term Presidents really don’t have the experience or qualifications to do the job until they have done it. So, why not the designated survivor?

Themes: Calling, confidence, and equipping.

Discussion Questions

– What is required to follow God’s call in your life?
– What is required for this church/small group to follow God’s call on the gathered community?
– How do you feel when it seems like God has given you a calling you are unprepared for?
– When you look at God’s call on your life/church/small group, how do you feel relative to others that could have received the same call? Why would God call you/your group specifically?
– When you look at the call stories in the Bible, what are the common themes in people’s reactions to God? Can you relate?
– When God calls people, God also equips people. What are you doing to prepare yourself or utilize others God has placed in your sphere of influence to accomplish your calling?
– In the same way that the President puts thought, consideration, and faith in the “designated survivor” to accomplish a big job should the need arise, do you think God has done the same with you and your calling? Why or why not?

Lectionary Connetions

Genesis 12:1-4a/Genesis 12:1-9 – Call of Abraham
Year A – Lent – Second Sunday in Lent
Year A – Season after Pentecost – Proper 5

Exodus 3:1-15 – Call of Moses
Year A – Season after Pentecost – Proper 17

1 Samuel 3:1-10, 11-20 – Call of Samuel
Year B – Epiphany – Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Year B – Season after Pentecost – Proper 4

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13/1 Samuel 16:1-13 – Call of David
Year B – Season after Pentecost – Proper 6
Year A – Lent – Fourth Sunday in Lent

Isaiah 6:1-8 – Call of Isaiah
Year B – Season after Pentecost – Trinity Sunday
Year C – Epiphany – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Jeremiah 1:4-10 – Call of Jeremiah
Year C – Epiphany – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Year C – Season after Pentecost – Proper 16

Luke 1:26-38 – The Annunciation/Call of Mary
Year B – Advent – Fourth Sunday of Advent
Year A – Lent – Annunciation of the Lord
Year B – Lent – Annunciation of the Lord
Year C – Holy Week – Annunciation of the Lord

Luke 5:1-11- Call of Peter
Year C – Epiphany – Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Acts 9:1-6, 7-20 – Conversion of Paul
Year C – Easter – Third Sunday of Easter

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