I found much to admire in Spielberg’s Lincoln this evening. The ensemble cast is as fine as I’ve ever seen. The costuming, sets, and cinematography transported me 160 years into the past. The scenes of war were deeply sobering.
The greatest impact of the movie, however, is the profound distress I feel for our nation as it hurtles mindlessly headlong toward self-destruction.
Spielberg’s Lincoln is no simplistic cartoon. He is, like all worthy leaders, a complex, conflicted person wrestling with great issues and ideas. He practices the nearly lost art of politics, which has long since given way to a cynical science. His ship is tossed, first in one direction, then in the opposite, by great waves of persuasion set upon him by men passionate for their cause or ambition. He is willing to exert whatever pressure is necessary to reach his goal. His end justifies his means, ostensibly, because the justice of his end dwarfs the circumstances that stand in the way.
Debate his methods — you can and you should — but I regret the loss of high-minded devotion to justice that has brought this nation to its knees. We are beset today with politicians unworthy of that name, who have brought politics down to the meanest level of corruption and self-aggrandizement. The men and women who pretend to lead this nation from that grand cesspool in the east are driven almost exclusively by ideology and self-interest. They speak passionately of justice so their benighted flocks remain deceived; silken lies roll easily off their tongues, without the slightest compunction or regard for the truth. While Spielberg’s Lincoln dispenses patronage, twists arms, and deceives his opponents, he does it in a quest for the greatest good of his time. Today’s occupiers of the nation’s capital merely dispense patronage, twist arms, and deceive.
I offer no justification for Lincoln’s methods, but I grieve that those entrusted with the leadership of today’s Democrat and Republican parties have goals no more high-minded than enriching themselves and their cronies and solidifying the enslavement of an entire nation to the federal master.
There are a few — too few — legislators in Washington whose integrity remains intact and whose eyes are set on worthy goals. My only hope for our national future lies with a handful of men and women there still inspired by our fathers’ vision of equality, freedom, and justice for all — and who understand the road to achieving that vision requires a degree of personal sacrifice most people in Washington are unwilling to make or ask their constituents to make.
Which brings me back to one of the movie’s final scenes. Lincoln rides on horseback through a killing field outside Petersburg, Va. The ground is carpeted with corpses — each one the son of a mother and a father, dutiful children of a nation that asked not for a campaign donation, but for their blood. Young men — some of them little more than children — who marched bravely into a fusillade of bullets, cannon fire, and bayonets toward certain death. They were willing to pay the price of self-sacrifice more literally than any of the wheeler dealers in D.C. The only Congressmen who showed even a fraction of that courage were those willing to risk the revenge of their racist Democrat colleagues to vote for the 13th Amendment.
If the cause of equality, freedom, and justice for all in this country — in this world — is going to be advanced, do not look to the cynical nest-featherers in Washington. Instead look in the mirror. This country’s only hope is for us to step across the street, across town, across the tracks and partner with the people who have a vested interest in solving local problems with local resources. Even if top-down solutions did work, our federal government is too gridlocked, too corrupt, too mired in mindless ideology and sedimentary bureaucracy to take the bold action needed to do justice for the people.
If you care anything about equality, freedom, and justice for all, it will be up to you to forge the alliances in your community and attack the giants that oppress your neighbors. As with Lincoln’s boys in uniform — Union and Confederate — marching determined into battle, courage and self-sacrifice will win the day. When we are ready to risk everything for peace, when we decide to truly love our neighbors the way we love ourselves, we will see Almighty God move in our communities and transform lives. We will see justice “roll down like waters” — a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry. (Amos 5:24 NLT)
Jesus warned us a grain of wheat must fall into the earth and die, but promised that, in dying, it would bear much fruit. (John 12:24) Who is willing to die to self to see God’s kingdom come, as Jesus prayed, “on earth as it is in heaven”?
You know you can’t count on posturing demagogues and their useful idiots to pay the price. The question is, are you willing?
When you are ready, this is a great way to get started.