Abraham Lincoln

White Washed Saints

6063940161_78a5fc93c8_b"Don't call me a saint," Dorothy Day once told an admirer, "I don't want to be dismissed so easily." We love saints and heroes. We have Presidents Day and Martin Luther King's birthday. We used to have Columbus Day. We celebrate Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. We build statues to star athletes and war heros.

Generally speaking, we love the dead ones most. The reason being that once they are dead, we can choose to remember them as we wish without the pesky reminders of who they actually are -- which living people tend to provide.

George Washington cannot tell a lie in our nation consciousness, though the story is apocryphal and an admitted fabrication.

Lincoln never has to deal with bouts of severe depression in the car sale commercials we run in his honor.

Mother Teresa said in the midst of her ministry she had not heard God speak to her for decades.

Martin Luther King's womanizing is quickly pushed behind the curtain as we put him on a pedestal.

I think that King may be the best example of the misguided but not malicious makeover that we give our dead heroes. MLK was a genius. If you've never read his letter from a Birmingham jail or his books, or even watched the movie Selma, you're missing out.

Having just read his book, Strength to Love, I believe that if MLK was alive today, he would be speaking out about the evil of war. Any and all wars.

If, after 9/11, he were to speak to our nation and caution us against replying to violence with violence, we would have turned on him quite viciously. But because he is dead, his blind patriotism is unquestioned. In fact, he was becoming a thorn in the side of the government when he turned against the Vietnam war prior to his assassination.

Indeed in Strength to Love, King says this: "There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the destructive power of modern weapons eliminates even the possibility that war may serve as a negative good."

Would our love for King be so great if he continued to force us to face questions about our behaviour as a country? His agitation for civil rights is viewed highly through the lens of modern history. If he was alive to speak against other injustices that still exist, we may not be so quick to praise him.

Would King be closer in national opinion to Al Sharpton rather than how we celebrate him today?

Heros and saints are great. They are important. By their examples, they call us to think bigger and to give ourselves fully to a cause greater than ourselves. But when we ignore their problems and failings, it actually hurts us.

We think, "I'm not perfect like s/he is, so I shouldn't try to do what s/he did." Our heroes and saints lived in a broken and corrupt world, just like we do. They had to deal with the same crap that comes toward all of us. Sometimes, they didn't handle it well.

That gives me great reassurance. God can do great things through people who are sometimes as flawed as me. We live in an era where we crave the humanity of our heroes.

Watch the latest Superman and Batman movies to see that we no longer want paragons of virtue who are untested by emotion and character flaws. I hope we can continue to apply that lens to the real heroes of our current and past world and not just our fictional ideas.

History and the Next Great Decision

history-booksDo you ever wonder how you would have reacted if you lived during different eras in history? What I mean is this:

Had I lived in the civil rights era in this country, would I have had the courage and understanding to stand with those who were fighting for equal treatment?

If I had lived in Germany during the 40s, would I have hidden Jews from those seeking to kill them?

Would I have criticized Abraham Lincoln when he led the process of introducing the Emancipation Proclamation?

Had I been alive at the time, would I have joined the crowd shouting ‘crucify him’ before Pontius Pilot?

Silly as it may seem, these questions scare me.

Mostly, because I know how imperfect I am. I worry that in the midst of these situations, I could have come to the wrong conclusions through arrogance and selfishness.

And when I talk about the wrong conclusion, I don't just mean the one that lost. We all know that history is written by the victors.

What happened to the Armenians in Turkey was wrong. Dropping nuclear weapons on civilian populations was wrong.

Obviously, I'll never know the answer to these questions. But it makes me look for the people groups and issues in our day that need people to stand up and courageously speak out.

Where are the issues that I need to apply the values gained from studying the scriptures and work for what is right?

There's many issues we argue over today: gun rights, universal health care, gay marriage, minimum wage, etc.

How can I be sure that I am pushing on the side 'of the angels' as the phrase goes?

I believe it comes down to a simply concept - that I must always chose the side of love.

I love this quote by Napoleon:

“Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded his empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him.”

Love is willing to give and sacrifice whereas force is willing to kill and take.

Where can I pour out my time, and energy and resources and efforts and possible my life for a cause greater than myself?

I believe this question will lead us to the places where we can work for redemptive and creative causes.