July 25, 2007


Posted in Personal at 12:04 am by Caleb Winn

I just returned from my first ever trip to Washington D.C., the highlight of which was certainly the Lincoln Memorial. More than any other monument, I had anticipated seeing President Lincoln. And I was not disappointed.

As I ascended the steps and walked into the Memorial, I was first struck by the sheer size of the President. In many ways, he cuts a menacing figure in that hall of stone. And yet his image inspires, rather than terrifies. Though Lincoln is imposing, one gets the impression that he does not seek to impose on his visitors. Rather, he stares forward, guarding his people from that which would divide and destroy them, always keeping watch to ensure that the government by the people, of the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth. As I looked into his protecting gaze, I saw the words written on the wall above him:

In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.

Indeed, may Lincoln’s memory live in our hearts. And may we honor his memory with our lives. As I read these words, my eyes grew wet with tears.

As I turned to the left, I discovered, etched into the vast wall of the sanctuary, the words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. As I read along with that great speech, I was overwhelmed by the importance of his words. These words are more than stirring rhetoric. These words are Lincoln’s solemn vow to press on to victory, and his challenge to us to continue on after he has perished. Lincoln realized that it would be foolish to presume that any speech could truly commemorate the lives lost in service to their country. Instead, Lincoln commemorated their sacrifice by offering one of his own, dedicating his own life and service so that their sacrifices were not for naught. It was as if the words of Lincoln reached out across centuries and called out to all who would listen:

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

There is nothing more I can possibly add to those words. As I read them, I felt tears run down my cheeks, each one a silent promise to honor the noble dead, and to do what I can to preserve and protect that which they fought to secure.

On the opposite wall, the words of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address are on display. In it, he speaks of the terrible time of war, and the necessity of persevering to victory for a just cause. And he acknowledges that it can be difficult, at times, to discern God’s will in light of such terrible calamities. Where is God when Christian brother fights against Christian brother, and millions of men, women, and children remain enslaved? And how can we serve Him faithfully, pursuing what is Right without hating those who do Wrong? And there I read these words:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

I can attempt to draw any number of correlations to true and important ideas. I think that Narnia, The Faerie Qvueene, and Harry Potter could all help us to understand the full weight of these words. But high fantasy fails me, and I am left with no more powerful image than the one I saw as I read these words: An elderly black man stood staring at the wall, and with tears in his eyes and joy in his voice, read the speech aloud into his cell phone, sharing the words of that Great Man with somebody who could not be there to see them in person. What more powerful testament to the enduring legacy of Abraham Lincoln than this man’s joy, his tears, and his laughter! As I read those words, and saw their effects played out on this man’s enraptured face, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of it all, and could not hold back my tears.

The 45 minutes that I spent in that hall, reading, weeping, and praying, were some of the most powerful of my life. Lincoln was only one man, weighed down by depression throughout his life, but he refused to stand by and let history take its course. His enduring legacy of freedom is a blessing to all who live in the world that he helped create, and a challenge to each of us to steward his work, to further the cause of freedom and unity, and to persevere as God gives us grace to see what is right.



  1. Andrew said,

    Did you get a chance to see the Vietnam War memorial? That was by far the emotional high (or low, as it were) of my first trip to D.C.

  2. Caleb Winn said,

    Hey Andrew;

    I did see the memorial, though I passed through it on my way to Lincoln, so I was a little bit distracted by anticipation. It was certainly a somber experience. I must confess that my primary reaction was one of anger at the nation that did not honor these men and women, nor respect their sacrifice and willingness to do their duty. I wanted to punch a hippie in the face.

  3. curtisschweitzer said,

    This was a beautiful and moving post– thank you for it.

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