"I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors."
And so began our new President, with his message to all of us, and the beginning of the Era of Responsibility.
At the conclusion of the speeches, and as tears freely fell down my face when the National Anthem was played, I felt hopeful again that the creed of our Nation would be fulfilled. I went to the computer, one of our most recent great technological achievements, to find a text of the speech, so I could read it in full and accept it's deeper meaning. Ironically, it was on the BBC website that I found it first. The power of his words have reached across the world.
"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."
In a voice similar to FDR and Kennedy, he cast aside some of the ills of this nation and reminded us that we are better than this. Our history has shown us that we can rise above the petty issues of men to attain a higher goal, a broader achievement. In the words of John Winthrop, "For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us." Our eyes are on Washington, and we pray for change, for better days ahead.
"The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."
If this were true, that we could now be a land of true equality, we could be that City Upon the Hill. If we could all learn to accept those that are different, to lift up those that have fallen, to set that example for others to follow, there may be hope for us yet.
"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more."
We cannot continue to force our will at the end of a gun. From our beginning, we lead by example. When we had to use military force to advance our goals, we did so in measured fashion. We made our mistakes, and we paid the price. We are now presented with the opportunity to lead with the hand and voice of friendship, of understanding, and with determination.
"We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."
We saw this is the aftermath of 9/11, and the opportunity to advance change and bring this nation together was squandered. We were a strong nation, united in a common goal. The terrorists did not defeat us, we allowed our government to do that for them. We must insure that this does not happen again.
"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."
Regardless of our familial ties, we are one nation, one people. As one, we can move mountains and be the better for it.
"And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it."
In a book I have been reading this last week, when speaking of poverty and the responsibility of Nations, the following passage from Matthew 25 was quoted, and seems appropriate for this time. (Yes, I'm quoting scripture!)
The Judgement of the Nations31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” 44Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
There are those that put forth that ours is a Christian nation, yet these same voices protest when they feel that we are paying too much for Social Welfare. That those suffering from AIDS/HIV in Africa brought this upon themselves with their faithless and unseemly acts. That those living in the inner cities are unwilling to elevate themselves above the property and joblessness. That those who suffer in these dark economic times brought this upon themselves through greed and avarice. Who amongst us is without sin?
"For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies."
We have been apathetic and complacent. We must now rise to our Nation's call.
"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."
Are we ready to answer this call? Can we continue to be complacent and apathetic as our Nation continues to suffer from the follies of the past eight years? If we are to succeed, we must all do our part, in word and deed, to help our newly elected President in lifting our Nation to it's former Glory and becoming that beacon of justice and democracy in the world again.
I leave you with some of the words that Rev. Lowery, the great civil rights leader, recited today in the benediction. The following is the text of the Negro National Anthem, written by James Weldon Johnson for a celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birthday in 1899, and was sung in Florida by a Childrens Choir on that occasion. Mr. Johnson later became the first African American to pass the bar in Florida.
Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears have been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, Our God, where we met Thee;
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our GOD,
True to our native land