In basketball, it referred to the unstoppable trio; although, with the recent addition of Durant, it becomes a crowded foursome. In baseball, of course, with whatever home team you rooted for, the term represented the first three in the lineup, with the fourth allegedly reflecting that force who would bring the spectators up onto their feet for that anticipated grand slam. And in the third major sport? It might refer to the quarterback and his 2 favorite receivers, or the bookends on defense with a linebacker thrown in.
Americans love triplets; whether in sports, where a fourth can never quite squeeze in despite there being nature’s four seasons; or in government institutions, where the three branches of government remain ensconced in the conscience of a collective citizenry, despite the need for that ineffective fourth estate which is meant to oversee and investigate.
In other areas, of course, the reference to “the Big 3” may be somewhat esoteric — as in the realm of hermeneutics, where the dominant theologians were once comprised of Barth, Bultmann and Bonhoeffer. They could, by alliteration, be collectively grouped as “the 3 Bs”, but because of their relative lack of media anonymity and disparate connections, except for their European origins and the combined deconstructionism based upon dialectical theology and demythologization of the sacred text, here again we find a triad of untold force. Of course, they never played on a basketball team, nor represented a cycle of sports spectatorship; instead, their impact was to alter the manner in which theology was approached.
Only one of them — Bonhoeffer — was executed; but not directly for his liberal theology, but for his staunch vocalism against the Nazi regime and an alleged involvement in a thwarted plot to assassinate Hitler. In these days, history rarely marks the ghosts of those who never received the accolades of media notoriety, and “The Big 3” almost always engenders reactions to sports references. But there are other arenas of substantive discourse, as well.
In Federal Disability Retirement law, “The Big 3” would invoke the tripod of the Federal Retirement System — of the FERS Retirement, Social Security benefits, and the Thrift Savings Plan, and the interplay between the trio. The first in the three can be “tapped into” early, by filing a Federal Disability Retirement application, which pays 60% of the average of one’s highest-3 consecutive years of service, then 40% every year thereafter, until age 62, at which point the Federal Disability annuity gets recalculated into a “regular” retirement.
Of the second, there is an interplay and an offsetting feature between Social Security and FERS Disability Retirement, but only if the Federal or Postal employee becomes concurrently qualified with both FERS Disability Retirement and Social Security Disability Insurance. As for the third rail — the Thrift Savings Plan — it can remain in the same investment device after a FERS disability retirement is approved, but should probably not be accessed until a later age, for obvious tax reasons.
Throughout history, words have been elastic and malleable, but relevance is often determined not by the substantive meaning of a staid concept, but by the perspective of the audience. With that in mind, “The Big 3” isn’t always about LeBron James and what other 2 players he may be joined up with; sometimes, it can refer to Barth, Bultmann and Bonhoeffer, or even to the triumvirate of a FERS Disability Retirement.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire