Thinkin’ Lincoln

If you haven’t seen the movie Lincoln yet…it’s a must-see and a very introspective movie. Daniel Day-Lewis has sewn up the Oscar for Best Actor and I think Sally Field will get much consideration for her role as Mary Todd Lincoln as well.

The strength of the movie is how much they humanize Lincoln and his family. We get a you-are-there feel on the inside of the Lincoln White House. We forget about Lincoln’s tragic humanity. We forget that he lost a child and that his marriage was not always easy after that. We forget that Mary Todd Lincoln suffered from mental illness long before there was much known about these ailments and that Lincoln almost had her committed to an asylum.

But we also see that Lincoln was a man of great introspection. We see how he wrestled with the ideals of the day. He wanted to end slavery, but also longed for peace. He saw these two things as being connected and not in any way mutually exclusive. Others disagreed. Many thought that the President should prioritize the plan for peace over and against the abolition of slavery. And Lincoln listened to those voices, sensitively, but always seemed to have one more trick up his sleeve that brought people into a deeper consideration of all the issues.

We forget often how human our leaders are. We hold them to the highest of standards, we test their beliefs and their mettle and we often disregard their stress and personal lives unless it helps us sell a paper or two or keep the news cycle on MSNBC or Fox News running.

Do we in the church, both on the right and the left, put our leaders through the same kind of dehumanization? While we hold our Bishops and priests to the highest of standards, and rightfully so, do we also forget that they are human beings worthy of our love, despite their failings and our disagreements?

We often come to our convictions not about facts and ideals but instead about people. And while people should be punished for mistakes, they should also be given the opportunity for redemption. That does mean that we place priests who were child molesters back in harm’s way, but it does mean that we don’t let our hatred of them control us to the point where we treat them as less than human, despite their revolting behavior and even their own dehumanization of others.

One of my college roommates and I once had the conversation about how we felt about capital punishment. He believed that criminals lose their rights when they commit atrocities and then he also believed that that gave us the right to do anything we please to them.

I disagree. And I think Lincoln subscribed to the same kind of mercy. He didn’t dehumanize slave owners for owning slaves, nor did he punish secessionists. Instead he moved into reconstruction, which I think is called for in all walks of life. How do we move on and no longer let hatred control us?

Lincoln surely struggled with that. And perhaps he was a bit of a dangerous person because of that. So dangerous that someone wanted him dead. His life, we remember not as tragic, but as heroic and I believe that’s so because of his humanity.

The words of the Gettysburg Address are short and simple and yet they reveal much about Lincoln the man. They stirred in my heart just as they did for the people of his time. Let us use those words as our prayer for peace:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


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