Daily Archives: January 21, 2013

Thoughts on the Inauguration of President Obama and the Legacies of Abraham Lincoln and Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

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“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” Dr Martin Luther King Jr. 

No matter who the President is, what political party they were the candidate of and no matter if I supported them during their campaign I always try to partake of the inauguration. Today was like that, though this year I was on the road between Virginia and North Carolina and listened to the ceremony live on radio as I made my trip.

Radio is a wonderful way to take in a live event, be it something like today’s events as well as a baseball game. Radio forces you to actually listen to what is being said as well as use your imagination to envision the events themselves. If you are present at the actual ceremony you may not hear what is being said, or miss significant parts of it simply because of the way that sound travels, audio distortions and things happening nearby that distract you even as you take in the visual wonder of the event. Television is a wonderful thing that allows us to see an event live and can enhance our experience of it, but often it can be full of distractions.

Radio on the other hand forces us to imagine the spectacle of the event as well as the actual words spoken.

I watched President Obama’s first inauguration with a very sick and elderly African American woman in the ICU at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. She held my hand as he took the Oath of Office and during his speech. She was in tears as she had lived through segregation, routine abuse by white people in the South, being treated as less of a human being on the basis of her race. She had lived the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement as a contemporary of Dr King. For her it was something that she never believed could happen in her lifetime coming true. It was at that moment I really began to appreciate the full impact of his election, what it meant to this dear woman, and what it meant to so many people. It was a watershed moment as she did not want me to pray for her medical condition, which was not good, but to pray with her for the new President.

The Second Inaugural Address was different as President Obama, now seasoned to the reality of the great political divide that has been part and parcel of our political climate went back to tradition to frame the current issues that are part of our daily life. He appealed to the Declaration of Independence, echoing it as Dr King had but continuing:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.  For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob.  They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.”

The speech which touched on a number of potentially divisive issues echoed that of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and the Gettysburg Address. It was an appeal to freedom, freedom for all and also the responsibility of each of us in the that endeavor.

“Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone.  Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.”

His words near the end of the speech made that clear and he acknowledged the reality that American statesmen such as Washington, Lincoln, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan understood so clearly.

“That is our generation’s task — to make these words, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American.  Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness.  Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.”

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Somehow it was fitting that the inauguration was held on the observed holiday of the Birthday of Dr Martin Luther King Junior and in the 50th year of his “I Have a Dream” speech on the Capital Mall. Having walked that Mall, and made numerous visits to our Nation’s capital I could picture these speeches, not just today’s speech by President Obama, but those of past Presidents, those that I have heard, seen or read as well as Doctor King’s speech.

I do not have to agree with every policy of a President to support them and pray for them as President. Today as I listened to both the President and Vice President Biden take their respective Oath of Office I was reminded of the Oath that I and those that serve in the Military take and then as I listened to his speech I heard the President refer to those similarities and the responsibility of all of that take it.

My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction.  And we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service.”

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After the ceremony was over I spent some time thinking about the closing words of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and pray that we will be able to fulfill those words in our lifetimes.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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