Inauguration Day 2013

22 01 2013

Thirty-two years ago this month, I stood not two hundred yards from Ronald Reagan as he took the oath officially inaugurating him as the fortieth president of the United States of America.  This day, January 21, 2013, on the occasion of Barak Obama’s second inauguration to that same office, the thoughts and emotions I remember thinking and feeling more than three decades ago, have visited me once again.  Two very different men – one white and one black, one Republican and one Democrat, one a ‘builder’ and one a ‘boomer’ – inspire me yet again to want to do whatever I can, to be part of the process of seeking a more perfect union, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

But I have to confess to sometimes wondering if it might be too late for me.

Over the past fourteen months I have visited Mount Vernon, the home of our first President, George Washington; as well as Monticello, the home of our third President, Thomas Jefferson.  I have made dozens of walks through the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, where the Founders of our nation once walked, dreaming of a nation where people might freely pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  And I have humbly stood at the feet of the Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorials, and in the shadows of thousands of grave markers in Arlington, all of which remind me of countless American heroes who have given their lives for this land that we call home.

In each of those moments, and in many others over the past several years, I have found myself reflecting on those who have shaped the history of America, and wondered what happened to my own dreams of devoting my life to public service?  What happened to my childhood dreams of becoming President, or for that matter being elected to any office that might allow me to make a difference in this world and to leave my mark on our nation.  What has happened to my following in the footsteps of that man whose ceramic head sat in the house where I grew up.  John F. Kennedy was carefully positioned on a shelf in our family room, beside an antique leather bottle, with penetrating eyes calling me again and again to ask . . . “not what my country can do for me, but what I can do for my country.”

I took that question seriously as young adult, but have to confess that at the age of 51, every now and again, I wonder if I’m too late.  And at one point not all that long ago, my wondering actually turned to worry!

I had met a friend from college for lunch, and we spent a couple hours talking about our life together at The American University in Washington, DC, and remembering the dreams we had for our futures – dreams born in our internships in one of the most invigorating and exciting cities in the world.   My friend worked at The Washington Post and I worked on ‘the hill’ for my Congressman, John J. LaFalce, and both of us had great stories to tell.  We laughed about our youthful idealism, reflected on hopes that had been tempered by years, and even mourned a bit . . . grieving over the sad realization that ours we’re probably not going to be lives written about in history books and talked about in high school civics classes.

But my mere wondering about such things turned to worry when, as we were about to leave lunch, my friend asked me if I thought I went into ministry as a way of avoiding the hard work of a . . .  ‘real job.’

Now I don’t think he used those exact words, but his message was painfully obvious.  He clearly felt as though I had lowered my standards by going into ministry, and thus missed the chance to make any kind of significant mark on our world.  And on days like today, I’m tempted to worry that his words might have been accurate.   Did I lower my standards?  Did I taken the easy road?  Have I missed out on the chance to leave my mark on our world?

On days like today, many of us may be tempted to think such thoughts.  Sure, we look at our president and jokingly and ask ‘who on earth would want that job?’   But deep down inside don’t we all wish we could serve the way our presidents do?  Whether we agree with them or not – whether we like their politics or not – when we reflect on the lives of Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barak Obama – aren’t we all inspired to serve just a little more heartily?   Aren’t we all motivated to serve a little more passionately?  And don’t we all, at least for a moment, wonder and worry over whether we’ve actually done enough with the lives we’ve been given?

Well if you are like me, and ever wonder about these kinds of things.  If you are like me, and right now are tempted to worry that it’s too late for you to make a difference in our world, then let me remind you on this important day of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.  As this momentous day draws to a close, may these important words inspire you when you open you eyes tomorrow, and all the tomorrows after that.

“Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.”

No, we can’t all be president!  All of us can’t discover the cure for cancer, and all of us won’t be part of a plan to bring peace to the Middle East.  Very few of us will inspire the next Apple product, and even fewer will ever walk on Mars.  In all actuality, the vast majority of us will probably not even be remembered in our families for more than a generation or two.

But none of this means that we can’t achieve greatness.  None of this in any way means that you and I can’t leave our mark on the world.  And none of this means that we can’t make a difference in the lives of the people whose lives we touch each and every day.  For even people like us, average people like you and me, can serve others, and make a difference in our circles of influence.  We can all do our small part in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting those in prison.  We can keep an eye of the elderly widow who lives next door.  We can volunteer at the homeless shelter in the church downtown.  We can get involved with our local school board, write our congressional leaders and advocate for those issues that are important to us, and become part of service organization seeking to care for ‘the least of these.’

No, it’s never too late for us to be great, because each and every one of us can serve someone, somehow, someway!  All we have to do is get our eyes off of ourselves, and see the value in the lives of those around us.  All we have to remember is in this great nation, none of us succeeds unless we all succeed.

This night, as we reflect on the blessings of living in this nation called America, may we all recommit ourselves to being great . . . by very simply, serving those around us.  For in the end, this is what it means to be an American, and more importantly, it’s what it means to be human.





One response

22 01 2013
Susan & Bob Weikert

Bob, you have greatly influenced so many on a faith journey of greater importance than the work done in the halls of Congress.

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