Posted by: nieophyte | July 19, 2008

“It is well to remember …”

During the workday, some people surf the web for sports scores, their status on an ebay bid, or the latest news. My boyfriend researches primary source accounts of moments in American history.

Here’s how the texting went-

nieophyte: hey, i’m bored.

le boyfriend: oh yeah? what are you doing?

nieophyte: just editing something … what are you doing?

le boyfriend: reading nytimes coverage of the lincoln assasination. It’s so intense!

… what the??

Determined not to be left behind in his quest for historical knowledge I decided that well, by golly, I had the power of the world wide web at my fingertips too and started searching nytimes.com’s archives to find the accounts as well. The reports are sobering and incredible. The tragedy of the loss of the nation’s president at a time when he was seen as the one ushering in the greatness of all that America dreamed to be was so palpable and real that reports say people came out in droves onto Pennsylvania avenue with no other objective but to mourn. To mourn within themselves, with their families, with their fellow citizens, and with their first family. Lincoln’s corpse was left in the White House for viewing until it was eventually taken to its final resting place.

Perhaps the most compelling article I read was the editorial released by the New York Times after Lincoln’s death. They spoke of the public feeling evoked by personal regard for Abraham Lincoln, “a man so gentle and kind, so free from every particle of malice or unkindness, every act of whose life has been so marked by benevolence and goodwill.” That his life should be shortened by such an act of malice and violence was a true tragedy indeed.

The end of the editorial, however, doesn’t end with a lament, but rather a call to hope– not hope in the rise of Andrew Johnson as the new President, but in the tenacity and spirit of the American people.

“In this hour of mourning and of gloom, while the shadow of an awful and unparalleled calamity hangs over the land, it is well to remember that the stability of our government and the welfare of our country do not depend upon the life of any individual and that the great current of affairs is not to be changed or checked by the loss of any man, however high or however honored. In nations where all power is vested in single hands, an assassin’s knife may overthrow governments and wrap a continent in the flames of war. But here the people rule, and events inevitably follow the couse which they prescribe. Abraham Lincolns has been their agent and instrument for the four years past. Andrew Johnson is to be their agent for the four years that are now to come. If the people have faith, courage and wisdom, the result will be the same.”

In a few months, we have the opportunity to elect a new man to be our agent and instrument for the next four years. As we consider prayerfully and intentionally, the candidates, I hope that you will keep these words in mind … the people rule, and if enough prayerful and faithful people participate and lobby to enact policy that enhances a proper view of justice and goodness in this world, we can turn the tide on numerous atrocities that have been committed against the innocent, the destitute, those dwelling on the fringes whom Christ loves.

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Responses

  1. “I hope that you will keep these words in mind … the people rule, and if enough prayerful and faithful people participate and lobby to enact policy that enhances a proper view of justice and goodness in this world, we can turn the tide on numerous atrocities that have been committed against the innocent, the destitute, those dwelling on the fringes whom Christ loves.”

    I find this to be an interesting and evocative word from you. I think I agree, my instincts are to agree, but I’ve also recently been confronted with a fresh perspective from Shane Claiborne’s “Jesus for President” tour (chock full of ideas that I still need to wrestle with). Their stance is that we should put very little hope in politics. It’s not wrong to vote; we need to participate and we should applaud and encourage good and sound and just policies promulgated from our government.

    But their emphasis at J4P was that we should put little hope in the government. Voting is, as they put it, really just “damage control”, because Christianity has always been about grassroots Christians living out justice, peace and love far more than voting justice, peace and love into office.

    While the J4P gathering almost played down the role of Christians in the political process, and while that’s an intriguing worldview at the moment, I think that ultimately, a balance has to be struck. The power in the people that you articulate in your post, according to the J4P angle, goes far far far beyond voting and lobbying for the right policies. The power in the people to vote for justice is to PRACTICE justice and get into the daily lives of those people who really need justice, and find real ways to provide directly to them, whether it is with the assistance of government or in total contravention with government policies.

    I’m not making an adverserial point here (as I often unwittingly do), I’m just putting it out there. It’s a new and weird way to think about politics, by sort of thinking of almost anti-politics.

  2. Ana, you make some excellent points and definitely, with the new place that I am in in my life, I’ve been considering these questions as well … I’ve heard a lot of Claiborne’s points, which I think are excellent! I think the New York times editorial could also support the idea of not relying to heavily on government. Could we extend the idea that not all agency rests on one man to the idea that not all agency rests on one administration? governmental branch? governmental system? absolutely!

    In reality, the people rule– and yes, I firmly believe in the power behind grassroots efforts … but beyond that, the kingdom of God is here and now.

    It is DEFINITELY a weird way to think about politics. I guess it’s about balancing both ideas … the importance of being aware and doing your part as a citizen of the united states while simultaneously knowing that we are to give to caesar’s what is caesar’s and give to God all that is His.

    as a sidenote … have you seen Brian McLaren’s recent posts on God’s Politics? Check it out … he speaks to this issue too:

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/godspolitics/2008/07/to-vote-or-not-to-vote-by-bria.html

    AND

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/godspolitics/2008/07/choosing-between-flawed-candid.html

    also, claiborne writes a bit about the Jesus for President tour:
    http://blog.beliefnet.com/godspolitics/2008/07/advise-everyone-endorse-no-one.html

    **this is not selfpromotion, I promise**

  3. really interesting topic of discussion stemming from a whimsical exploration of the NYT web archive!

    “damage control” – it implies that secular government is not seeking that which Christians seek. perhaps it isn’t, and thus in the grassroots is where they truly do God’s work.

    but there are many issues of justice, peace and love that government and politicians can affect enormously – moreso than any grassroots effort could.

    just last week the senate overwhelmingly passed legislation that will over the next 5 years more than triple the $15 billion the U.S. committed since 2003 to AIDS efforts in Africa. that $48 billion would not exist without votes.

  4. so, what’s interesting is that perhaps it WOULD have existed without votes. or even more. maybe the government is LESS effective than a grassroots movement because we have not yet unlocked even a fraction of a true grassroots movement. i think that was partially the point of claiborne’s talk. vote with your feet, with your hands, with your acts, with your wallets. if you desire change, go and do it, don’t vote for someone else to manage your taxes and then maybe do something.

    i agree with you, though, that we should certainly encourage the government in its efforts to pass policies that administer domestic and foreign aid, national and global health, and economic development for two-thirds worlds nations. and a list of more. and in my opinion, it IS right to vote for a government (if such an option is available) that most resembles a kingdom economy: one of justice, love, compassion, help, and humility.

    it’s just rare to find a government form that resembles the kingdom because this country is not a theocracy, and the people have not owned Christ as King of America. so i think the intriguing exhortation from the “Jesus 4 President” folk is that if we are Christians, then Christ IS King over us, and we adhere to His policies above the policies of the country we live in.

    there’s a balance to be struck here, as always, and we should not ignore great opportunities to behoove the kingdom cause. but perhaps it is time to shift our emphasis.


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