Van Ens: Lend a gracious hand like Lincoln offered
“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban or conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts [allusion to “God hardening Pharaoh’s heart” in Exodus 7:13]. If we show a little tolerance and humility. And if we ‘re willing to stand in another person’s shoes, as my mom would say, just for a moment ‘stand in their shoes.’ Because here’s the thing about life — there’s no accounting for what fate will deal you.
“Some days … you need a hand. There are other days when we’re called to lend a hand,” graciously declared President Joe Biden during his Jan. 20 inaugural address.
Gracious actions lift us up. Acting graciously embraces standing with what we believe is true yet striving to discover deeper truths. Gracious people allow adversaries to admit mistakes without humiliating them.
Gracious speakers who voice stern challenges level with listeners but refrain from coercing them. Remember how worshippers reacted after Jesus returned to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth and forcefully uttered his first public sermon? Initially, “All spoke well of him and wondered at the gracious words, which proceeded from his mouth,” (Luke 4:22).
Alongside Jesus, Biden relied on another mentor, Abraham Lincoln, whose gracious eloquence enriched his 1864 second inaugural address. At eventide of inauguration day, Biden joined host Tom Hanks at a musical concert from the Lincoln Memorial. Chiseled upon those ivory marble walls, Lincoln’s gracious words of remorse, repentance and generosity toward the Confederacy inspired healing for our broken nation, which searched for a more perfect union.
At this concert Hanks hosted, Biden spoke, looking at the imposing bronze statue of our seated 16th president, which exudes strength and solace during stormy times.
Lincoln held the upper hand against the South. The North’s final victory loomed over its foe. The president could have exacted vengeance upon defeated Southerners for inflicting our nation with a terrible ordeal. Lincoln could have gloated, calling out Dixie’s plantation masters for building financial empires selling cotton on the backs of slave laborers. He could have lashed out, using bruising biblical judgements that indicted the Confederacy for heinous crimes against humanity.
Instead, Lincoln spread the salve of gracious resolve to heal our nation’s wounds. He endorsed unity rather than division. Lincoln intentionally moved our nation forward with “malice towards none” and “charity for all.”
Biden’s inaugural speech resonated with Lincoln’s gracious themes.
His was unlike another of our presidents who also visited the Lincoln Memorial for a virtual town hall hosted by Fox News on May 3. Seated before Lincoln’s statue, he blustered about how he noticed Lincoln reflected in his own profile.
Lacking grace, this previous president nursed personal grudges, ranking them more hurtful from a sniping press than setbacks Lincoln suffered, culminating in his assassination. “Look, I am greeted with hostile press, and the likes of which no president has ever seen,” this president griped to fawning Fox News’ interviewers.
Pointing to Lincoln’s towering statue behind him, this president bragged about his own No. 1 ranking as most unjustly berated by the press of all presidents. “The closest would be that gentleman right up there. They always said — nobody got treated worse than Lincoln. I believe I am treated worse,” he lamented.
This president sounded graceless, a fatal flaw that wrecked his presidency. He and his supporters lost in the end at the ballot box, jury box and soapbox because of their discourtesies.
His supporters fail to understand the damage caused when graciousness goes missing. They misconstrue his tart and curt verbal attacks as “direct” speech against foes. Although winning legislative skirmishes for a season that lowered taxes and filled benches with conservative judges, he lost the war. Graceless speech and behavior breeds insults, ruthless lies, arrogance, and put-downs of women, minorities and people who need helping hands.
Gracious behavior and speech shine like the Lincoln Memorial’s sunlit polished marble. Graceful conduct and speech inspire determination, honesty, bold action defending defenseless people, and empathy Biden’s mom taught him to practice.
Who is more Lincolnesque? A president who expresses charity toward all or one who practiced malice toward malefactors?
Biden is a leader who speaks and acts like a gentleman. A devout Roman Catholic Christian, he graciously leads the U.S., a trait allies abroad find appealing, too.
The Reverend Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries, (www.thelivinghistory.com) which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations that make God’s history come alive.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.