Friday, July 03, 2009

For the Fourth; Think about Lincoln's words

One of the best things about the 4th is that you get to here the Gettysburg Address recited. I must have read these words hundreds of times, yet they never fail to make tears well up in my eyes and my throat clench up.

Nov. 19, 1863, the incredibly unpopular and decidedly divisive Abraham Lincoln traveled to a town in Pennsylvania to participate in the dedication ceremony of a new cemetery.
This is what Lincoln said:

Fourscore 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.

Liberty is another word for freedom, it means having the right to make choices, to make decisions that effect your life. The Declaration of Independence stated that ALL men were created equal. Of course, to Congress at the time, that probably meant male, white, registered as church members, who owned their own land.

The point that Lincoln was trying to make was that black, African-Americans, including slaves were equal too and entitled to the same liberties as the rest of us. I contend that every human being is endowed by our creator with the same certain inalienable rights, not just men, not just Americans, but all of us were meant to be free.

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 battlefield of that war.

Remember, at Lincoln’s time the U.S. was less than a 100 years old, the rest of the world was keeping their eye on us- we were an experiment in democracy and since we’d fallen into civil war, it looked like the experiment was about to fail. Just think about how people today watched the elections in Lebanon, Iraq, and most recently in Iran.

We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who died here that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have hallowed 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.

To say something is Holy, consecrated, or sacred simply means to set it aside for God’s use, to dedicate it for His special purposes, if you will.

It didn’t matter if the President of the United States or all the important dignitaries you could drag out conducted any kind of a ceremony at all. What made that place special was the blood of all the servicemen that was spilled there. Their deaths and sacrifice made that plot of ground forever important and unique. Lincoln pointed out that the people who didn’t die there had something else that they needed to be doing:

It is rather for us the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion-

We too, should constantly be re-dedicating ourselves to what those veterans were dedicated to. This is why it’s so important to support our troops, even when, like me, you don’t support the politicians and their misguided policies.

Sure, there’s been wars we shouldn’t have gotten into. Maybe some of them were motivated by interests that weren’t as well examined or scrutinized as they should have been.

Since America IS her people, and people are fundamentally flawed and sinful, America has made, does make, and is bound to make mistakes. But as long as American soldiers served to protect freedom and fought to establish and maintain justice, no American soldier ever died in vain.

Lincoln urges us from 1863 to be dedicated to preserving liberty and promoting equality. When we fail to, then it’s like letting them die in vain.

Each of us can do this in our own way. For some, it is by serving in the armed forces, for others it is by standing up and speaking out. We do it by exercising our liberties and by treating each other fairly and justly, as equal human beings, worthy of dignity and compassion. We do it by volunteering and participating in our communities.

Perhaps the simplest, easiest and most important way each of us does it, is when we vote.

that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation 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.

Once someone asked the age-old philosophical question, “why are we here?” And someone else answered, with both sarcasm and wisdom; “God put us here for each other.”

229 years later, (142 since the Gettysburg Address) this experiment in democracy still struggles, but it’s endured. So, let’s be dedicated to the motto on Iowa’s state flag, let’s prize our liberties and maintain our rights, otherwise what is there worth fighting for?

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