Words are powerful. Words coming out of our mouths can produce blessings or they can produce curses. Especially today with computer technology – internet, YouTube, blogs – anyone can publish without getting permission; anyone of us can have his/her own TV channel with the potential to have millions of viewers. On top of that, for those of us living in the United States of America, we have the right to have freedom of speech and of the press guaranteed by the constitution. Does that mean we can say anything we want? Yes. But we also need to know and be willing to face the consequences. Last week, we witnessed the reactions to a YouTube video produced by one person, who has the same right to freedom of speech as anyone else in the United States. The reactions included protests, violence and the tragedy of the loss of the U.S. Ambassador and his staff in Libya.
We are a very powerful generation. What we say and what we put out in the world through the various media has tremendous power and influence. As Spiderman’s uncle said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We can use this power to spread hate or we can use it to propagate love. We can use it to control or to empower, to isolate or to connect, spread fear or to build trust. We can use it to breakdown and divide community, or we can use it to build up and unite a community.
To continue our dialogue in preparation for the upcoming election in the United States, I invite readers to study a very famous speech given by Abraham Lincoln. As you listen to this short speech given on November 19, 1863 at Gettysburg, PA, pay attention to the carefully chosen words. In just over two minutes, Lincoln invoked the principles of human equality espoused by the Declaration of Independence and redefined the Civil War as a struggle not merely for the preservation of the Union, but as "a new birth of freedom" which would bring true equality to all of its citizens. Instead of using words that would divide and further polarize the people in the country, he chose words that illuminate, clarify and refocus people to what is truly important for the sustainability of the future of the country.
As the people of the United States move toward the election in November, I would invite readers, who are citizens, to consider the words that the candidates use. I invite you to evaluate the candidates based on whether they are careful, gracious and truthful in choosing the words that they use in their speeches and in the media they use to put forth their ideas and passion for the future wellbeing of the country.
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 cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot 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.
President Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863
Reflection Questions for Proper 20(Year B)
James 3:13-5:3, 7-8a
Eric H. F. Law
For competent leadership in a diverse changing world
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