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Lincoln's Legacy for Us

My wife and I recently went to see the movie Lincoln. It was a marvelous film, one that showed the intricate workings of politics at an important juncture in our history. Although I was somewhat disappointed with the cameo appearances of Lincoln in the plot (I fear that my expectations were a little high), it was truly a pleasure to see. I highly recommend it.
    As often happens with me, I found myself contemplating the message of the film that seemed to sneak into my sub-conscious below the radar.
    What is it about Abraham Lincoln that so binds him to the heart of Western idealism even today? I concluded that we inherently recognize that this singular man carried the immense burden of furthering our ideals about human dignity at a time when they were greatly imperiled. From the prospective of our mission at Chivalry-Now, he served humanity as a Knight Errant extraordinaire.
    Beyond his own integrity of conscience, I have no doubt that he was inspired by the nagging resonance of the nation's founding document, which audaciously declared that all men are created equal. The advancement of Western civilization would have been hamstrung without that beacon of light drawing us forward. The existence of slavery threatened that ideal even before the ink was dry. Decades later, a tragic epoch of our history was begun based on whether equality under the law would asset itself or not.
    The movie well documents the mindset of the American 1860s. Even those who considered slavery atrocious seemed to choke when it came to extending the right to vote to women and freed blacks . Their vision of the future and the implications of their own ideals were still limited. As most of history will attest, well-meaning people carry unquestioned biases with them even as they push their cultures to progress. They may seem ridiculous to us today, but they were blindly held as obvious truths by the best of freedom's advocates.
    I have heard Lincoln described as the last of the Age of Enlightenment presidents. Surely the meaning and the eloquence of his words, based on conscience and reason, and his struggle for the elevation of humanity bears this out.
    But he was not perfect. We might feel repelled by some of his earlier statements about race, although they evolved significantly over time. Likewise, Thomas Jefferson sought to rid the nation of slavery, even as he subsisted on slave labor. Yes, there are contradictions difficult to explain. These men, moral giants of their day, still had lessons to learn and prejudices to conquer.
    As do we all.
    None of us are perfect. As Companions and Knights of Chivalry-Now, we commit ourselves to a quest defined by moral conscience. We learn as we progress. We examine past conclusions and sometimes make mistakes. That we do not all agree on every topic provides proof-positive that we travel on a quest of burgeoning moral integrity and good faith that is still finding it way.
    If there is anything we can take from the movie Lincoln to help us in this regard it is to do what many of the characters portrayed did not. We must question our own beliefs and biases. Question them not just superficially, or with the distracting intent to justify them. Question them to the core. The quest is a learning process that demands that we confront truth with humility and an open mind, or it is lost.
    We are heading toward the possibility of something grand in the moral advancement of human evolution - a Kairos of unprecedented accomplishment. Or perhaps we are not. In many respects, the decision is ours. We can tinker with small moral adjustments, or lock ourselves into unbending principles that limit our perceptions rather than expand them, or get caught up in ideologies that were fashioned to support never-ending conflict instead of resolution - or we can serve as true Knights by bolstering and encouraging the integrity of human potential as global change occurs. If we, who are conscious of those ideals, and honor them daily in our thoughts, do not safeguard them and infuse them into the change that follows, who will?
We find ourselves standing on the shoulders of giants. Like Lincoln. Like Jefferson. Like Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, and John Locke, and Voltaire, and Marcus Aurelius, and Boethius - and a thousand others who gave to us freely that we might carry on.
It is time for us to do just that.


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