Henry Brinton—R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it meant to—John Wesley

Contributing Columnist

As we approach Election Day 2020, we are not seeing much respect across our political spectrum. This is a big concern to me, because respect is essential to a functioning community and nation.

Notice that I didn’t say “love.” I don’t expect love. It would be crazy for me to expect the supporters of Donald Trump to love Joe Biden, and the fans of Biden to love Trump. Love is a very private, personal, intimate emotion, one that really should be reserved for family members, friends and fellow members of a congregation.

But respect: That’s different. From my training in community organizing, I’ve learned that respect is a public emotion. I can respect someone with a different set of politics. A different education. A different religion. A different job. A different gender identity, race, or cultural background.

A generation ago, President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill respected each other. A Republican and a Democrat. Imagine that. The loss of such respect, among politicians and their supporters, is a big problem for us today. It affects our church, our community, our nation and our world.

Respect in the Bible

In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul demands respect: “If anyone has reason to be confident,” he writes, “I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (3:4-6).

Paul was not only a good Jew, “a Hebrew born of Hebrews,” but he was a superstar of the Jewish faith: He was a zealous Pharisee and a blameless keeper of the law. He was a man of strong convictions, a person of integrity. But then he developed a new passion. He shifted his focus toward knowing Christ, gaining Christ, becoming like Christ, and loving Christ.

John Wesley’s Advice

So, what guidance does this give Christians in a polarized political environment? First, I believe we should do our best to respect people of different religious and political beliefs. We don’t have to agree with them, support them, or endorse their points of view, but we should show them respect.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement around the world, offered some guidance to voters before an election in 1774. He said that, first, they should vote “for the person they judged most worthy.” Second, they should “speak no evil of the person they voted against.” And third, they should “take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

That’s good advice. Vote for the person you judge most worthy. Speak no evil about the opposing candidate. And don’t sharpen your spirit against those that voted on the other side. In other words, show some respect.

Second, I think we should build on this respect as followers of Christ. Respect is good, but it is not enough. We should hold each other accountable, as well.

When We Go Wrong

Over the past generation, there has been a growing awareness of clergy sexual misconduct. Some of this has involved clergy who cross professional boundaries and have sex with church members, and some has involved clergy abusing children and teens. Whenever it happens, it is wrong. The reputation of clergy has taken a hit because of this misconduct. But this does not mean that all pastors are bad. Through appropriate discipline and better training, the chance of clergy sexual misconduct can be reduced.

In recent years, there also has been a growing awareness of police misconduct, especially towards Black men, women and young people. The reputation of police officers has taken a hit because of this misconduct. But this does not mean that all police officers are bad. I have a great deal of respect for law enforcement, and have been friends with a number of officers over the years. But we need to hold law enforcement accountable. Through discipline and training, the chance of police misconduct can be reduced.

I would say that the same holds true for our elected officials. We can respect them and also hold them accountable. To expect them to keep their word and act with integrity is not too high a standard. So write letters, make calls, send emails, and make sure you vote. Don’t speak evil of elected leaders, but do hold them accountable.

Ginsburg and Scalia at the opera.

Love at the Ginsburg Table

Finally, we need to develop personal relationships that move from respect to love. Remember, we should be more than respectable, according to Paul. Respect is good, but it is not enough. Those of us who are Christians should be truly loving, and should allow Jesus to change us.

Eugene Scalia is the U.S. secretary of labor and recently wrote a column about the friendship between his father, Antonin Scalia, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Both served until their deaths as Supreme Court justices. The two could not have been more different: Scalia was a Christian and Ginsburg was a Jew. Scalia was very conservative and Ginsburg was very liberal. But they, and their families, had a very close relationship. In fact, since the 1980s, they usually celebrated New Years together.

At these dinners, Justice Ginsburg’s husband Marty would prepare dinner. Sometimes he would prepare venison or boar that Justice Scalia had shot on a recent hunting trip. The families would drink champagne, listen to opera, and enjoy each other’s company. Scalia and Ginsburg were both New Yorkers and “they liked a lot of the same things,” says Eugene Scalia: “the law, teaching, travel, music and a meal with family and friends.”

They respected each other, and, even more importantly, they loved each other. And this love extended to their spouses. Marty Ginsburg had a “powerful love and dedication to his wife,” says Eugene Scalia. “He was a cherished friend for my mother.”

But this respect and love did not mean that the two justices agreed with each other. Ginsburg was a “pioneering advocate for women’s rights.” Scalia was “a critic of activist courts.” Ginsburg dismissed one of his arguments as “outlandish.” He said that one of her opinions was “politics smuggled into law.”

But they never condemned or ostracized each other. They learned from each other and knew that their debates were part of what makes our democracy great.

Christian Hospitality

In my novel City of Peace, an immigrant couple named Sofia and Youssef Ayad, Coptic Christians from Egypt, invite a Methodist pastor named Harley Camden over for dinner in the Town of Occoquan, Virginia. Harley had suffered the loss of his wife and daughter in a European terrorist attack.

“This food is delicious,” says Harley to Sofia. “Thank you very much. It all seems very healthy.”

“Food is important to us,” Sofia says. “Think of the many times that Jesus sat down to eat with people—even tax collectors and sinners. Christian hospitality is very important to Youssef and me.”

“I do appreciate it,” Harley adds. “Think of how much better the world would be if people actually sat down and ate with each other.”

“No doubt about it,” agrees Youssef. “The Bayatis have become some of our closest friends here in Occoquan, largely because we have shared so many meals. Back in Egypt, Christians and Muslims are getting together less and less, which has caused the animosity and violence to increase. Did you hear about the attack last December in Cairo?”

“No, I missed that,” admits Harley.

“A suicide bomber attacked St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. More than two dozen worshipers were killed, including a ten-year-old girl.”

“It was horrible,” Sofia says, shaking her head. “The worst attack on Copts in years. The Islamic State claimed responsibility.”

“How did the Copts respond?” asks Harley.

“With increased security, of course,” says Youssef. “But also with prayer—prayers for the victims, and for their attackers.”

Harley is impressed that the Coptic community could respond with prayer for such evildoers. Thinking back over the past year, he hadn’t said a single prayer for the terrorists who killed his wife and daughter. And yet he knows that Jesus commanded his followers to pray for the people who persecuted them.

Yes, we live in a world of liberals and conservatives, supporters of Donald Trump and fans of Joe Biden. There is much that divides us in our fractured and polarized society. But good things happen when we find a way to respect each other and, even better, experience some love—as the Scalias and Ginsburgs did—in shared meals.

Truly, the world would be a better place if people actually sat down and ate with each other.



Care to learn more?

You’ll enjoy our March cover story about Henry and his new novel.




More about Henry

HENRY G. BRINTON is pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia, and has written on religion and culture for The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and Huffington Post.

A frequent speaker at workshops and conferences, he is the author or co-author of books including The Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality.—and a new cozy mystery called City of Peace.

Married with two adult children, he enjoys boating on the Potomac River and competing in endurance sports such as marathons.

Benjamin Pratt—’Want to talk with me, or only at me?’

EDITOR’S NOTE—Among Benjamin Pratt’s inspiring books is Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass, a spiritual exploration of the “7 deadlier sins” that best-selling author Ian Fleming set out to explore as he wrote his series of James Bond novels. That thought-provoking book, also known as A James Bond Bible Study—has sparked spirited small-group discussion around the world from New Zealand to New York City. In his column this week, Ben returns to teaching on the nature of sin as he grapples with the moral forces behind the rush to confirm a new Supreme Court justice.


Care to read more about the context of “7 deadlier sins” as journalist and novelist Ian Fleming saw these moral challenges? In this book, author Benjamin Pratt invites readers to explore Fleming’s Bond novels and rediscover the moral threats that Fleming thought all of us will have to face in our world, today. CLICK ON this cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Contributing Columnist

As the culture wars intensify since the death of RBG, numerous columnists, citizens and politicians have decried the hypocrisy of those rushing to fill her seat prior to the election. Hypocrisy is certainly a common evil but not an accurate description of the behavior we are seeing right ow.

In a war, it is best to accurately know the enemy, the one without and the one within ourselves. What is the proper way to describe the moral challenge we face? What is the name of this sin?

“For neither man nor angel can discern hypocrisy, the only evil that walks invisible, except to God alone,” declares John Milton in Paradise Lost.

The Greek root of hypocrisy, hupokrinein, a word sometimes translated as “pretending” or “theatrical,” refers to acting a part in a play. Hypocrisy is basic to our human condition. We all maintain the veneer of respectability, but none of us can be perfectly congruent in thought and action, so we are by definition hypocrites.

Like diamonds, hypocrisy is forever.

But that is not the name of the evil culprit with which we are grappling now. No, we are wrestling here with something else—with political fundamentalism or self-righteousness. Identifying this is crucial to the public debate.

Self-righteousness is the fuel of our cultural wars. When this particular tenet of our self is paramount, there is little or no room for tolerance. It becomes our orthodoxy to live and die by this vision. It becomes paramount over abiding in an integrated community, E Pluribus Unum. Armed with our convictions, the faithful are certain about the behavior of others and equally certain about the heresy of the infidels who are not part of their fold. The righteous are armed with the knowledge that God has shown them the right way, and all other ways are false.

Hypocrisy is the natural cover for such an arrogant soul. Hypocritical self-righteousness is about perceived height. Those who envision themselves towering above the common herd of humankind are responsible only to the vision behind their own eyeballs. The bitter irony is that these twin towers of duplicity—hypocrisy and self-righteousness—place the evil person beyond the possibility of reconciliation, redemption and community. The loss of community as our highest vision means the loss of E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one (the motto of the US).

Understanding the true danger of self-righteousness is crucial, because we tend to regard this problem as a rather benign blemish on the backside of the overly religious. From Dickens and Twain to Hollywood, self-righteousness is standard fare in American comedy. We tend to chuckle about it and forget it, but the truth is: Self-righteousness is a potentially deadly evil, the malevolent force behind war as well as more common forms of pain that we visit on each other for a whole array of political, cultural and religious violations.

The blood of the innocent flowed in more than one corner of the world on August 19, 2003. In Iraq, a truck loaded with explosives reached the corner of the United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad. The crime claimed the lives of Iraqis and foreigners, including one of the most talented United Nations diplomats of his generation, Sergio Vieira de Mello. On the same day a bus bomb in Jerusalem killed at least 18 people and injured scores more, including many children on their way home from the Western Wall. Both despicable acts were committed by self-righteous terrorists whose goal was to disrupt peace, plant fear, take vengeance and thwart the hopes of the majorities of Palestinians, Israelis and Iraqis who do not share the terrorist vision of the world. Imagining their vision superior to that of the majority, and buoyed by their vision of a vengeful god, they deny and disrupt attempts at building peaceful communities.

This has erupted close to home. In 1994, Paul Hill fired a shotgun into a pickup truck outside the Ladies Clinic in Pensacola, Florida, killing physician John Britton and his security escort James Barrett, plus wounding Barrett’s wife. A Presbyterian minister, Hill claimed the killings were “justifiable homicide” to protect unborn children. He remained defiant until his execution in September, 2003, self-righteously saying he felt no remorse for the slayings and was certain of his reward in heaven.

Terrorism is spiritually rooted in self-righteousness. Behind the eyes of the terrorist is a vision of the world that tolerates no other vision—to the point that all other perceptions of the world must be obliterated at any cost. Terrorists think in absolutes. They are purists.

Here’s a simple test for signs of self-righteousness in a person you’re encountering: Does this person want to talk with me, or only at me?

When individuals or groups fix the boundaries of political, cultural or religious tenets, especially ones that exclude people, the seeds of self-righteousness are sown. As we close the doors of dialogue, we are declaring: “We know precisely who God is and what Good is, and therefore, we know who the Devil is and what Evil is.”

We claim to vanquish doubt without realizing that doubt is an essential ingredient of faith. If you doubt this, simply read the journals of countless saints right down to modern heroes like Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa.

In the writings of Ian Fleming and others who have explored the deadly sins down through the ceturies—self-righteousness is the loftiest head of the evil dragon.

From a position of imagined superior height this swelled head lives, isolated with his or her own almighty, vengeful god, casting scorn and contempt on all the lesser beings for whom there is only negative judgment, and with whom there is no community.

Unless we conquer this war within, there will be no E Pluribus Unum!

Victor Begg, author of ‘Our Muslim Neighbors’—’A fork in the road’ means we must choose

EDITOR’S NOTE—Victor Begg has been an interfaith peace activist for many years, a dramatic story he tells in his memoir Our Muslim Neighbors. He is frequently sought after to speak and appear at conferences—and often writes editorial columns for newspapers and magazines. The following column originally appeared online as an Op Edit column. We share it here with Victor’s permission. 


Click on the book cover to visit its Amazon page.

Author of Our Muslim Neighbors

As the nation braces for what most consider one of the most important elections in recent history, polarizing factors are framing the 2020 elections with increasing intensity.

Promise and threat, fear and hope are some of the most powerful forces in people’s behavior. The campaigns are capitalizing on such sentiments and biases. The bases on both sides are readily buying into the divisionary rhetoric. Setting the facts aside, their minds are made up, giving into the toxic politics of divide and rule.

President Donald Trump’s personal tax information and the first chaotic presidential debate with negative reviews of his conduct was a guidepost.

With the presidential election looming, we’ve come to fork in road. We will either be a united country progressing again as “one people” under Joe Biden or be making America great again “again” if we reelect Donald Trump. That’s one bait in the tackle box of the campaigns.

The independents are like the fish in the water. Can they dodge the misinformation bait? Watching the fuss, independents are wary. This way or that way? If you are one of them or leaning a little to the right or somewhat to the left, you want to figure which way. There’s no political GPS to navigate between truth or falsehood.

This is an important election, that is for certain. If one believes that, then staying on the sideline isn’t a choice either. That’s not so simple for many, obscured by dire consequences of four more years of divisions by one, or the illusion of four more years of success by the other.

Which way to turn at the fork? The great Yogi Berra said: “When you come to a fork in the road—take it.”

The famously comical Berra then added, “I will—if it is a silver one.”

In my 50 years since I came to America, it’s the first time I feel the stakes are higher than bread and butter issues. Never has an invisible force like COVID-19 humbled us. It has taken over 220,000 American lives with no ending in sight. We can only defeat this scourge when we’re united against it and listen to the experts, putting political loyalties aside.

I’m confident all of us, independent voters or not, want to do what’s good for our neighborhoods, our country and the world. As an immigrant, I believe in America’s promise—it has fulfilled my dreams of a good life.

America is founded on ideals and values the world wants to emulate. American resilience is unmatched in the face of disasters, defeats, or calamities. Preserving our values in the end is what most would want. This time, it’s not just about marking a ballot, it’s about who we are. It’s about our rights and what we want America to be.

And, we want America to be compassionate, not rancorous.

In this election cycle, let’s keep the faith in the American voter, and in our collective moral conscience. I stay confident in our political system. I’ll choose hope over fear when I cast my vote. The oldest and the greatest democracy will prevail and flourish, God willing.

Duncan Newcomer’s Abraham Lincoln Quiet Fire—In three words, he said it: ‘We are elected.’

This entry is part 29 of 29 in the series Duncan Newcomer's Quiet Fire

If you’ve visited Springfield, Illinois, you may have a photo of this popular statue with family members joining this Lincoln family scene. There are countless snapshots of this tableaux on social media.

Host of the ‘Quiet Fire’ series

This is Quiet Fire, a reflection on the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln and its relevance to us today. Welcome. Here’s a Lincoln quote for you:

“Mary, Mary, we are elected.”

It’s the first Tuesday night in November of the year 1860 and the telegraph office in Springfield, Illinois, has received the results of the vote from the state of New York. Abraham Lincoln is assured of winning his election to the Presidency.

A little before two o’clock in the morning Lincoln walks home. One historian (Ronald C. White) records it this way: “By everyone’s remembrance, Lincoln remained remarkably calm through the long evening. He did exclaim that he was ‘a very happy man’ (But then) … as church bells rang, and cheers exploded, Lincoln finally headed for home. ‘Mary, Mary, we are elected.’ ”

What are we to make of this?

He remained remarkably calm, and his first personal words about this momentous event are to his wife, as he gets back home, and calls out in the first person plural pronoun: “We.”

Mary, Mary, we are elected.

If there was ever a time to focus on oneself—one’s own ego—this win would be it. But—and this is why we keep looking at the spiritual life of Lincoln—this is not for him a First Person Singular moment.

Nor should it have been. Mary was a passionate politician. She believed in politics, had been around it all her life, believed in Lincoln’s skills more than he did, and she knowledgeably and personally companioned him in his work all his adult life. Theirs was an unusual 19th-century marriage in many ways.

Because he was personally calm he could be aware of the relationships he was in, including, most significantly, with his wife Mary. So it is, “We are elected.”

Clam in the midst of storm is a hallmark of a spiritual person. The stories of such spiritual calm are endless in spiritual literature. Jesus in the storm-tossed boat with his disciples is just one. Joan of Arc before the flaming stake another.

There is only one reason for this poise and composure, and the storm-tossed person has an even keel, they are balanced by something else. And it holds them.

This is not magic. It is simply that the person thinks about something else, some other, more than about oneself. The even keel of spiritual life is to center yourself on something larger than yourself.

This is Lincoln as a spiritual person. He shows this again and again. Especially we see it in his elections. Historians record that he again and again lets go of himself.

We can see this in his first election and his last election. Lincoln lost his first election and up until the last months he was sure he would lose his last election for a second term.

So, first, there he is at the age of 23, the wrestling champion of his new home town New Salem, Illinois, where he can crow “I’m the big buck of this lick.”

Two of the smartest men in town have asked him to run for the state legislature. They all hope he can win some improvements in their local river, the Sangamon, so that steam boats can come upstream and make a real town out of New Salem. He agrees to run. He writes a campaign flier. And this is what he says: if I should not win this election, “I am too familiar with disappointments to be very much chagrined.”

How about that! Hi folks. I’m running for office. But if I don’t win, well, hey, I am real familiar with disappointment, so no chagrin here.

He adds: I am running for the state house with my only object being “that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.”

How about that too?! I want you to hold me in esteem and to know that I want to act in a way that makes me worth your esteem. This is not a selfish man. This is a man rooted in larger mutual relationships.

So Lincoln is a truly humble person. He cannot help but think of himself as a humble person and from that flier on to the election of 1864 he refers to himself 35 times as humble Abraham Lincoln. He’s not making this up.
But at one of his election rallies a fight broke out and he stepped into the crowd and, at six feet four inches and then 214 pounds, picked up the culprit that started it and reportedly threw him 12 feet away.

Lincoln lost that election. Country-wide he lost. But in his little town of New Salem, where he most cherish his esteem, he won 277 votes out of 300. That’s a 99% approval rating. He said it was the only election where he was beaten by the direct vote of the people.

But in August of 1864, the country was in the midst of a Civil War and he was sure he would not be reelected. He wanted to be. He said quite plainly, “I desire to be re-elected” But he wrote a letter to the man whom he thought he would lose to. Told him how he would help him try to save the country between the election and the new Inauguration. Sealed the letter. Had all his cabinet sign the back of it to certify it, and put it in his drawer.

His opponent was the infamous general who wouldn’t fight, George McClellan. Lincoln was willing to go through with the election win or lose. Saying this “I know not the power or right to resist them. It is their business, and they must do as they please with their own.”

The election was the people’s right. It belonged to the people not to the President. We must have the election, he said. He would not postpone or cancel it. He proclaimed: “We cannot have a free government without elections.” If the rebellion can postpone this national election he said they might as well have claimed to conquer and ruin us. There were multiple levers of power he could have used to move the election to his favor and he did not. That’s that spiritually humble thing again.

And as his wife Mary said, He was “almost monomanic on the subject of honesty.”

Lincoln won, of course. At the War Office when he received the news that he had won, and by a land slide, every state but three, he said, there is Mary back at the White House and, quote, “She is more anxious than I” and so he left to go back, and indeed, once again thought in terms of “we”—we, himself and Mary; we, his political party; we, the nation; we, the people.

We know how he felt, not just about her, but about us. We have won. We have won.

That is a humble and communal spirit that lights him and can light us, down in honor, to the latest generation.

This is Duncan Newcomer, and this has been Quiet Fire, the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln.





Care to Enjoy More Lincoln Right Now?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.





Duncan Newcomer’s Abraham Lincoln Quiet Fire—Now, we’re all hoping for ‘Yonder’

This entry is part 28 of 29 in the series Duncan Newcomer's Quiet Fire

Host of the ‘Quiet Fire’ series

This is Quiet Fire, a reflection on the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln and its relevance to us today. Welcome.

I have a Lincoln quote for you from The Prairie Years, the opening of poet Carl Sandburg’s multi-volume, Pulitzer-Prize-winning reflection on Lincoln’s life. This is how Sandburg described the spiritual foundations of Nancy Hanks, Lincoln’s “Sweet Angel Mother”—

It could be that she was sad with sorrows like dark stars in blue mist, with hopes burned deep in her that beyond the everyday struggles, the babble and gabble of today, there might be what her brightest dreams told her. She read their Bible. One who knew her said she was a “ready reader.” She was a believer and knew—so much of what she believed was yonder—always yonder. Every day came cooking, keeping the fire going, scrubbing, washing, patching, with little time to think or sing of the glory she believed in—always yonder.

Certainly Nancy Hanks—who died when her son was only 9—was shaped by the revivals that swept west across America in the beginning of the 1800s. Some called this wave another Great Awakening, some felt it was the very Kingdom of God in America. As Sandburg tells the story, the perpetually overworked Nancy Hanks simply thought of it as a faith in “yonder.”

Yonder is a spiritual word whose time has come again. It is a word like other spiritual nouns—like bliss, grace, enlightenment, beatitude. These words are almost verbs because they carry such life, words that as nouns hardly cover the state of being that they refer to. They can be adjectives and adverbs.

Yonder is a mix of vision—horizons—like the prairie lands that stretch out to the edge of the sky, like the ocean of land that the prairie is, and wonder. In the mix of vision and wonder, Yonder becomes an envisioned and visionary place.

Remember Carol King’s “way over yonder”?

A way over yonder
Is a place I have seen
In a garden of wisdom
From some long ago dream

Yonder is a feeling, a wonder, like the story-book awe that greets the little animals at the edge of the riverbanks under the Wind in the Willows, when morning light comes and the sound of the flute of the great God Pan floats over their little ears. Yonder is like that awe. A natural holiness.

Yonder is when the hopes of a people are believed in so much they go beyond themselves to achieve what is then called glory.

Do you remember that word, “glory,” at the close of Sandburg’s passage? He admits that Hanks’ real aim was “the glory she believed in—always yonder.”

That’s the meaning in title of the 1989 film Glory about the Black soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th regiment who tried to take South Carolina’s Fort Wagner—in an even larger battle to prove that Black lives matter.

So glory is that place where politics and the real struggles of people mixes with values and vision.

That is the vision involving the spirit of yonder that Lincoln grew up with, and never lost.

This is Quiet Fire, the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln.





Care to Enjoy More Lincoln Right Now?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.





Duncan Newcomer’s Abraham Lincoln Quiet Fire—Here’s to you Mrs. Robinson!

This entry is part 27 of 29 in the series Duncan Newcomer's Quiet Fire

Host of the ‘Quiet Fire’ series

This is Quiet Fire, a reflection on the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln and its relevance to us today. Welcome.

This week’s quote is: “At present we are told that America is being made great again, but specifics are hard to come by. It is true that, compared with the America of memory, little has been done recently to demonstrate modest foresight, let alone grand vision.”

Marilynne Robinson

No, that’s not Lincoln reflecting on the challenges of his turbulently divided America. Those are the words of Christian novelist Marilynne Robinson in the Opinion pages of The New York Times this week. Her lengthy essay was headlined: Don’t Give Up on America. This country is not just an idea. It’s a family.

Lincoln might well have smiled and nodded at such a thought. Spending time with Lincoln becomes a relationship. When we think about the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln—soon, we begin to have a spiritual life with Abraham Lincoln. That is one reason historians don’t write very much about the spiritual life of Lincoln, because it takes them out of the library and into the temple.

Lincoln inspires parents to give their daughters or sons tokens of their own deep interest in Lincoln—perhaps family photos of trips to Springfield, framed old copies of the Gettysburg Address, things like that. This often really happens.

In her Times column, Mrs. Robinson never specifically mentions Lincoln. But her challenge in that piece—and our challenge as well—is much like the awesome task that faced Lincoln and the generations around him: What to do with America?

Mrs. Robinson—whose most famous novel is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gileadsaid in her Times piece that America is more than an idea, it is a family.

Lincoln was deeply drawn to America as an idea. Lincoln was as much an intellectual as he was a politician. But he makes an everlasting blend of the idea of America and the social and political life of America. He re-coins the words “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

America to Lincoln was an idea he hoped people would embrace nationwide. “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty….we must think a new, we must act anew.”

The Civil War was about the idea of America, and particularly the unfinished idea of all people being equal. It was a growing family, a unique social experiment, a human proposition.

Not long into the war Union soldiers began to refer to President Lincoln as Father Abraham. Lincoln was an Old Soul even as a boy. He had gravity. It was in the nature of his spirit to be grave, serious, profound, sorrowful.

Of course he also had a way of being forever young. As a father, he could not control his own children. He could barely control his own rollicking jokester humor. He nearly made a romantic mess of his life when he youthfully crashed into the world of women, Eros and love. His favorite poets were the big bad boys Lord Byron and Bobbie Burns. The Bible and Shakespeare barely kept a lid on Lincoln.

Lincoln as Father Abraham brings us into the family of America that he helped conceive, bring forth and offer a new birth of freedom.

Lincoln as an intellectual brings new meaning to the idea of America as much as Lincoln fathers a newly born America.

He was and is a Father Figure to the American Family in the same tragic way that fathers are in the plays of Shakespeare trying to govern a human family of near-impossible variety. Father figures in Shakespeare are flawed characters who have the full range of human angels and devils within them. They meet fates like, Lincoln’s own, tragic, and yet his with ongoing, nearly eternal inspiration for us, the witnessing family.

Shakespeare as the author plays the same role as God does in the Bible, the Father progenitor who survives his own creations. Even in the Bible the God-man Jesus has a tragic encounter with the human family before his love and spirit take over.

Mrs. Robinson is right to move our relationship with America, as did Lincoln himself, from just an idea to a relationship. Of course ideas, and the Idea of America, seem much more orderly than the Family of America. We know about family life, the tribal wars, the sibling rivalries, the divorces.

Lincoln experienced this first hand. Robert E. Lee decided to betray his oath as a soldier in the American Army and went back to the family home to fight for his tribe—to fight, as he said, for Virginia. The tribe of Virginia, or even the idea of Virginia, to him, had more of a draw than the idea of America. He simply was not the intellectual or moral thinker that Lincoln was.

Perhaps, when we think about the spiritual life of Lincoln, as it begins to have an effect on our own spiritual life, we see that his idea was that democracy was for the world. It was not just for America.

To this day, people around the world still look to Lincoln.

Father Abraham is the kind of figure who tells us, as he said, not only to think anew but to act anew, so that we can, as he did, save our country.

This is Quiet Fire, the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln.





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GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.





Craig LeMasters and futurist Rita J. King talk about ‘Unstuck: How to Unlock and Activate the Wisdom of Others’

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

This ReadTheSpirit Cover Story is a video story—in fact, two videos!

Both are introductions to the newly released book,
Unstuck: How to Unlock and Activate the Wisdom of Others, which is available now from Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Walmart.com and other online retailers.

THE FIRST VIDEO, below, is a less-than-2-minute introduction to the work of international business coach Craig Lemasters whose team takes a rapid-cycle approach to helping leaders get unstuck—mainly by connecting them with wise men and women outside their current circle. Then, Craig and his team at Atlanta-based GXG coordinate these catalytic encounters to ensure that these new outside sources of wisdom unlock and activate growth within the company that originally was stuck.

Susan Stitt created this very brief introductory video. She is the marketing director of our Front Edge Publishing house and is a strong advocate of video marketing, as she explained in this earlier column about the importance of book videos.

THE SECOND VIDEO, below, introduces Craig Lemasters himself in a 27-minute interview with futurist Rita J. King at Science House in New York City. Years ago, Craig was a client of this national center for innovation, which specializes in working with Fortune 100 companies. Now, Rita has written the foreword to Craig’s book and she also hosts this YouTube interview that serves as an online virtual book launch for Unstuck.

Video 1: Is Your Company Stuck?

Here is Susan’s video that conveys the valuable core message of this book in 1 minute and 41 seconds:

Video 2: Unstuck Launch Day

Here is Rita J. King’s interview with Craig about the importance of helping leaders break free of the barriers that are preventing them from adapting and growing. NOTE: The interview begins 45 seconds into this 27-minute video:


You also can go directly to YouTube to view these videos.

Video 1: Is Your Company Stuck?

Video 2: Unstuck Launch Day.